Elena in Paris

Vi Moreau

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DISCLAIMER: Highlander the Series is a property of Rysher Entertainment. Characters are used without permission. The characters and stories created by the author are copyright by Vivian Moreau, 1996.

WARNINGS: This story contains scenes that are both VIOLENT and SEXUALLY GRAPHIC. Also, there is a liberal use of the name of God by one of the main characters. For those who might be offended, please realize that this fictional character is South American and very Roman Catholic, and God was an important part of the daily lives of 17th century Catholics. She is not being blasphemous.

"You can't be serious!" exclaimed Dawson, pacing up and down with his cane. "This is blackmail! You aren't even supposed to know Watchers exist---what in God's name makes you think we'll let you get away with telling us how to run our organization?" He yelled the last sentence in Elena's face, but if she didn't flinch from sword-wielding Immortals trying to take her head, she sure wasn't backing away now.

"The Hunters are part of the Watchers---they only exist because of you."

"They're not our responsibility. We just watch, remember? Besides, a polygraph test? What if we find someone who has an inclination to kill Immortals, or who just simply dislikes them a lot?"

"I'm not interested in inclinations, Dawson. I have an inclination to kill you, and yet I'm resisting it quite nicely, I think."

"That's only because you know MacLeod would stop you!" When she had come after Dawson, as she had pursued and killed other Watchers, MacLeod had to fight her to protect his Watcher friend. Dawson and Richie had crept downstairs to the dojo after Duncan and Elena's fight and found them both dead on the floor. Only the fact that Duncan 'came back to life' first had saved his head, and consequently, Dawson's life. But instead of taking her head, Duncan had become Elena's lover and now, her ally.

"That's not fair, Dawson, and you know it," interjected Duncan. "I don't think we're asking for too much. Look, the Hunters are systematically killing us. I didn't want to do anything about it, but even I can't ignore it anymore. I thought we had enough just killing each other, but at least there's a purpose to that, a quickening to be had. They have to be stopped, and you Watchers have the best chance of finding them."

"Alright, supposing, just supposing for one moment that we do polygraph every single Watcher, and we actually find some Hunters. What do we do then, kick them out? What's to stop them from joining other Hunters anyway? Or are you suggesting that we do more than that? Are you suggesting that we kill them?"

"That's not necessary," put in Elena. After eighteen months of killing Watchers and Hunters both on sight, she felt she knew exactly what to do. "You just give me the names....."

"And you execute them! Oh, no, no way! You're talking about a witch hunt here, MacLeod!" he appealed to his friend.

Richie answered this time. "Wait a minute, Joe---they're the ones hunting us, remember? Hunters? We're just looking to save our asses, that's all!"

"Dawson, you have to weed these people out," put in Duncan. "Do you think we're the only Immortals who know about Watchers and Hunters, or that Elena here is the only one who's ever thought of coming after you? Believe me, Dawson, what you don't want is a bunch of Immortals for enemies!"

"You mean including you?" Dawson looked into Duncan's face, appealing once again to their friendship.

"I'm not your enemy, Dawson. I never have been. And I'm not an enemy of the Watchers. But the Hunters are a different story!"

Dawson shook his head. "The Hunters are not part of our organization!"

"But they're connected to you, and they're using your Watcher data to find us and kill us. You can locate them easier than we can. Look, I know you can't find them all. Just find as many of them as you can, Dawson. Give them to us, and we'll give you the disks back. Simple trade."

"I'll never sell this to my people, McLeod. They won't sit still for this."

"What are you saying here, Dawson, are you saying the Watchers would come after us?" asked Richie.

"No, Richie, you know that's not our way!" Dawson shook his head again. He walked over to the window with difficulty, staring outside.

There were a few moments of tense silence.

Elena ground her teeth. She still found this 'talking it out' business difficult---her instinct was to use force, to beat Dawson into submission---but he was right, Duncan wouldn't let her do it. Dawson was still his friend, and one of the things that made her love Duncan MacLeod was his total loyalty to his friends. Besides, she really didn't want Dawson's blood anyway. She had come to understand what everyone had been telling her, that Watchers weren't killing Immortals---only Hunters were. And there was a distinction, and she was willing to make it, up to a point. Joe Dawson was not her enemy, but he certainly wasn't helping her.

"Dawson." He turned to face her, his face unyielding. She took a deep breath, trying to figure out the best way to appeal to him. It wouldn't be easy, considering her first approach had been to steal his disks containing Immortal information, knock him unsconscious, tie and gag him, and start breaking his fingers to get him to reveal Watcher secrets. She looked down at the cast on his fingers. If Richie hadn't interrupted, she would have eventually killed him.

"Everyone in this room wants to destroy the Hunters. Some of us have stronger reasons than others....."

She had a sudden flashback. Her eyes closed. "No, don't kill me!" Maria screams. "[!Elena, ayudame, por el amor de Dios!]" Automatic gunfire follows.

"......some of us really want to kill the Hunters, but you have a lot to gain here, too." She looked at him for a long moment, then made a decision. "Duncan says your word can be trusted. Is this correct?"

"I'll keep my word, but I won't make any promises I can't keep."

"Then I will make a bargain with you, Dawson." She picked up the disks sitting on the coffee table, copies of which she had already stashed away. "I will give these back to you. In return, your Watchers must start a serious effort, any way you can, to destroy the Hunters. Something we can verify. Right now most Immortals don't even know Watchers exist. If I were to spread the word among Immortals, even those I would kill on sight, that there is a group watching every move we make, I know your people would suffer great casualties. We do not want a war between Watchers and Immortals, do we? I don't like what you're doing, but I'm willing to tolerate being watched. I am not," she spoke quietly and calmly right in Dawson's face "willing to tolerate being killed, and having my friends killed, especially the non-Immortal ones who can't defend themselves!"

Dawson nodded. "I hear you, Duran, I....." Dawson knew that Elena was still mourning her friend Maria who had been shot to death by Hunters---even though she was obviously pregnant at the time. "I'll talk to my people. I'll see what I can do. I'll get whatever info I can. You're right---we all want to destroy the Hunters. We'll never get them all, but I give you my word I'll help all I can. But in return you've got to give me your word that you won't kill any more Watchers. You're not the only one whose friends have been killed."

Elena considered this. Of course he had friends among the Watchers. Maybe one of the ones she had killed had been especially close to him. Maybe he, too, was mourning. "[Palabra de honor,]" she whispered.

Dawson held out his hand, and Elena gave him the disks. He put them in his overcoat pocket, then held out his hand again.

Elena looked at him for a moment. "I am trusting you, Joseph Dawson. This has nothing to do with Duncan MacLeod or Richie Ryan or the Watchers or anyone else---it's just between you and me. I am trusting you personally." She put her index finger on his chest.

Dawson nodded, and said, "Elena Duran, it goes both ways."

For the first time since this business began, Elena saw an end in sight. They shook hands solemnly, then she added, "Let us begin with everything you know about Evan Kaminsky, and especially, very especially, everything about Fernando Rios."

"Let me get this straight. Kaminsky is the Hunter from the hotel, the one who caught you and beat hell out of you, right?"

"They didn't get a chance to beat me too badly, but they did shoot me to death. Twice," she answered, grimacing. No matter what these Mortals thought, being shot was just as painful and unpleasant for Immortals, only they recovered from it. "Kaminsky was also looking for these disks. And you should see his secret collection of Immortal swords."

Dawson shook his head. "I've known him for twelve years, and I never suspected a thing. What about Anna Kaminsky? Does she know?"

Elena shook her head. "She just thinks he loves collecting swords. She thinks it's romantic."

"That's a relief. She's a good woman. But what about this Fernando Rios? I know his name---he's just another Watcher, assigned to.....no, I'll have to check. Why is he so special?"

"Evan Kaminsky told me Fernando Rios is the Hunter who killed Maria outside Buenos Aires eighteen months ago. I know Rios is a Spaniard and I believe he is currently in Paris. I even have an address."

"Kaminsky told you? But they're fanatics! How did you get him to....." He looked down at his broken fingers, and back at Elena. "I see. Well, I don't think he's supposed to be in Paris, but I'll get on it right away. This whole thing might take some time, you know." He looked at all three Immortals. "I guess I'll see you around," he said, and started to limp toward the elevator. Duncan caught up to him.

"Thanks, Dawson. And you can reach us on the barge."

Dawson seemed surprised. "You're going to Paris? You and Duran?"

"I'm in on this, too," said Richie.

"Well, I guess I'm going to Paris too. I'll contact you when I get anything." Dawson left.

Translations: (all Spanish)

ayudame, por el amor de Dios -- help me, for the love of God

palabra de honor -- word of honor

Part II

Paris, 1995

The flight to Orly and the taxi ride to the barge on the Seine was quiet and uneventful. Everything that needed to be said had been said back at the dojo. Their plan was simplicity itself---stick together, find Rios, kill him and as many Hunters as they could, and then.....they both wondered whether the two of them had a future afterward.

Certainly Duncan wanted to spend some time with Elena when she wasn't bent on killing everyone around her, and she really wanted to stop killing and share some normal, quiet time with Duncan for a few hundred years.

But they hadn't voiced these hopes. They were just determined to get through the next hard weeks or months, however long it took. In the meantime, Duncan thought, there was no reason not to enjoy Paris. It was, after all, the 'City of Lights.' But as they got out of the taxi and started pulling their suitcases out of the trunk, they all seemed to sense the buzz simultaneously. It came from the barge.

Elena looked at Duncan. He motioned toward the taxi and whispered, "I'll take care of this." While Elena paid the driver, he headed toward the barge. As he started cautiously up the gangplank, a figure came rushing out.

"Monsieur MacLeod? I am Francois Leroux. She was right, she knew you were here!" "Monsieur Leroux," nodded Duncan, shaking hands absently, his mind on the Immortal waiting for him, "who knew I was here? Who's in there?"

"Why Mlle. Amanda, of course! She came by just yesterday afternoon, as I was getting your barge in order, per your instructions. She said she was an old friend, knew you name, your address, everything. She said she would wire you." He paused, obviously uncertain. "I have made a mistake, oui?"

"No, not at all Monsieur! She is an old friend, and she likes to surprise me!" Duncan smiled, slightly worried, thinking furiously how to make the best of Amanda's presence.

"She made herself at home, [naturellement], since she is an old friend.....I should have contacted you myself, I'm sorry, but she said....."

"It's alright, M. Leroux, please don't worry. Amanda can bequite.....persuasive. Listen, would you mind letting my friends know that she's here? I'm sure they'll be quite surprised also. And thank you for getting everything ready."

"[Pas de quoi, Monsieur.] I will inform your friends. If there is anything else I can do?"

"Thank you, no," answered Duncan. He steeled himself and went below.

Richie introduced himself to the Frenchman as Bill Wallace. Elena knew that Richie had 'died' in Paris two years ago in a very public motorcycle accident, and he and Duncan had discussed the dangers of his return to that city. Fortunately, the man who best knew Richie, a man by the name of Maurice, had moved to Bordeaux. In any case, they agreed that Richie would keep the lowest profile possible and stay away from motorcyles. The bottom line was that wild horses couldn't have kept Richie away from Paris at this point. He was too eager for the hunt. "Listen, Monsieur....Leroux, who's in the barge?"

Leroux seemed slightly taken aback. "M. MacLeod asked me to tell you Mlle. Amanda is aboard. Apparently she decided to surprise him. It is alright, is it not, M. Wallace?"

"Oh, yeah, Amanda loves to surprise Mac." He sighed. "Anyway, this is Elena Duran."

"Mademoiselle." They shook hands.

She and greeted him in very good French, then turned to Richie. "And just who is this Amanda, Richie?"

Richie looked at Leroux. "Thank you very much, M. Leroux. We'll let you know if we need anything else." As the Frenchman walked off, Richie turned to Elena. "Amanda is a.....friend of Duncan's."

"An Immortal."

"Yeah." Richie seemed uncomfortable.

"Tell me about her, Richie." Of course Duncan had other lovers----what woman wouldn't be attracted to him? And of course some had to be Immortals! She just hadn't expected to be meeting one so soon.

"Amanda is very hard to describe. Look," he appealed to her, "I really don't want to get in the middle of this, OK?"

"I'm not asking you to get in the middle of anything, Richie. I just want to know about her, that's all. Duncan didn't mention her to me."

"Well, you know, you're not the only one......."

"I realize that."

"Look, if you're worried about it, Mac is not going to dump you for Amanda just like that."

"He isn't?"

"No! I mean, he wouldn't!"

"I know that. We came to Paris for a reason, remember, Richie. I know Duncan won't just suddenly leave me for another woman. There's no question of that. The question is, will he want to leave me?"

"You can't condemn a person for what he feels, alright? I don't know exactly how he feels about her, but he's crazy about you. All I know is you have to trust him to do the right thing. I mean, if you don't, what's the point?"

"You're right, Richie." She looked at the barge and sighed. Richie was right. There was nothing she could do but just wait and trust Duncan. And she couldn't tell him what to do, any more than he could tell her. But she knew that in one week she couldn't compete with a love affair that may have spanned two or three centuries, and that she was probably doomed. The worst thing was how much she had come to love him in that short time, how heartbroken she would be if he left her. And she couldn't do a damn thing about it.

Duncan stepped into the barge to find Amanda on the far side, lying luxuriously on the bed in a flimsy negligee. He swallowed hard. This was not going to be easy. "Amanda!" he smiled. "What are you doing in Paris?"

"You know Paris is one of my favorite cities. Especially since you're here so often. Come," she patted the bed beside her, "let me welcome you properly."

He moved toward her but kept his distance. "What do you want?"

"Well.....I want you. What else matters? Come on, MacLeod, come over here. Don't make me come to you."

"I can't. Amanda, I brought someone with me to Paris."

"I thought there was another Immortal still outside. You mean Richie? You don't mean Richie? What do you mean, you brought someone with you to Paris?" She got up and walked towards him, obviously alarmed.

Duncan took a deep breath. "Her name is Elena Duran, and she's with me."

Amanda wrapped her arms around his neck, "You can't really mean.....", but he pulled them off.

"Yes, I really mean it, Amanda."

"But how could this happen? We were just together recently! You told me you loved me!"

"It wasn't that recently, and I do love you, but Elena is.....it's a long story. But we're together, now, Amanda, for a while, I hope. You're going to have to go. I'm sorry."

"This is impossible! I didn't mind Tessa so much, or that doctor, Anne whats-her-name. I mean, they were mortal. All I had to do is wait them out. But this Elena is immortal, isn't she?"

Duncan nodded.

"Duncan. You can't do this to me. We have something together. You can't just tell me to go."

"I'm sorry, Amanda, but you'd better get dressed." He was truly sorry, but he wasn't about to give up on Elena, especially not considering what the two of them had gone through and were still facing.

"Who is this girl, anyway? Is she Spanish?"

"She was born in Argentina. Look, Amanda....."

"Duncan, she doesn't need you, and I do. I'm kind of in trouble....."

"I knew it. Why don't you just get dressed and you can tell us all about it. I'm going to get the others." He turned to go, then turned back to Amanda, a horrible thought in his mind. "You will get dressed, won't you?"

"Of course. I wouldn't want your girlfriend to see me like this! But are you sure you want to give this up?" She came close to him again---her perfume was familiar and intoxicating.

Duncan backed away. "I'm sure. Please put some clothes on." Now he had to go outside and talk to Elena! This might be even harder than Amanda, and he knew Amanda well enough to know she wouldn't just give up and go. The problem was that Elena was always willing to fight, and this could be tragic, especially for Amanda. When he got outside, the two were very quiet. He walked up to Elena and kissed her on the cheek. "Let's take a walk."

Elena's heart sank, but she said, "Of course," and fell into step with him.

"I didn't tell you about Amanda because I truly didn't expect to see her. She just pops up occasionally. Look, Elena," he stopped and took her hands in his, "the truth between us, always, right?" She nodded, and he continued. "Amanda and I have been lovers on and off for over two hundred years. But right now," he looked straight at her, "it's off. You and I are together for as long as you want me. Especially considering the task before us."

"Duncan, I don't want you to stay with me just because of this Hunter business."

"No, Elena, it isn't just the Hunters. I love you and I want you. I can't make it any clearer than that."

"And Amanda?" She had to be sure.

"Amanda is a wonderful person, but she usually shows up when she needs something from me. She said she's in some sort of trouble, and I can't ignore it if it's true. We'll talk to her and see what's going on."

"If it's true? You mean you don't trust her?"

"I trust she won't go after my head, at least.....no, she wouldn't. But she has lied to me in the past. I just want the two of you to get along. No fighting, alright?"

"I will not pick a fight with her, Duncan. But I fight when I'm challenged. You know that."

"Yes, I know, just....." he sighed. First he had to keep Elena from killing Dawson because she was killing every Watcher/Hunter she met. Then he had to keep her from killing Richie, who was protecting Dawson. Now Amanda. He sighed again.

She had already turned and was on her way back to the barge, eager to meet Amanda. Inside the barge she saw a tall, black-haired, willowy woman with a boy's haircut stepping back from kissing Richie. He was actually flushing! There was no question that Amanda, dressed in a skimpy black outfit, was beautiful, and she had an intelligent face. Elena felt Duncan come up behind her as Amanda came up to her.

"Well, you must be Elena Duran. Funny Duncan's never mentioned you."

"We haven't been together for too long."

"Oh? I've known him for over two hundred years."

"I know." Elena was determined to stay cool, even though she hadn't been so jealous of anyone in years. Of course she was beautiful! Duncan MacLeod could have his choice of any woman he wanted!

"Well, Duncan," Amanda turned to him breezily. "I guess I should pack up and leave, right?"

"Uh, yes, that would be best," he replied.

"Won't be a minute." She started flitting about the barge, picking up different items, humming an indistinct tune.

Elena wanted to look around the barge; instead, she found herself watching Amanda closely.

"Amanda," said Duncan.

"Yes, Duncan?" She was all innocence.

"You mentioned you were in some trouble? Do you want to talk about it? We can go for a walk....."

"No, it can wait. I wouldn't want to intrude."

"Amanda....." said Duncan, exasperated.

Elena sighed, opened her suitcase, and started to unpack. She couldn't wait for Amanda to leave---it was so awkward! There was a long silence, and finally Amanda finished getting her things together. She put on her coat and fit her broadsword underneath it. "I guess I'm ready."

Duncan walked her to the door. "Let me know if you need anything, alright?" He couldn't believe that she would just leave, and he was right.

"Sure I will." She started to leave, then apparently changed her mind and slipped past Duncan to where Elena was putting clothes in a wardrobe. Duncan tensed up immediately. "You know, Duncan and I have been friends forever."

"You said that already."

"Just so you know, I've been around a long time before you were even born, and I think I'll be around a long time after you're gone." She smiled and turned to go, but Elena took her arm.

"If that's just your opinion, you're entitled to it. If it's a threat, be careful. And if it's a challenge," Elena's smile was not a pleasant one, "you name the place and time, and I'll be there." She didn't release Amanda's arm.

Duncan stepped forward, "Elena, don't!"

Amanda looked at her in what appeared to be genuine surprise. "You're one of those who really likes swordfighting, aren't you?"

Now this was a subject that warmed Elena's heart. "Yes, I am. Think of it, Amanda. You practice daily for years, decades. You hone your skills to perfection. In the meantime you live a life that could really be boring. There's no challenge. So you get hit by a truck---big deal! Then the moment comes that you've been preparing for. You meet an opponent---someone who can really kill you, permanently. Your blood pounds in your veins! It all depends on your skill, talent, preparation, [cojones!] In ten minutes everything is decided! Only for those few minutes are you really, truly alive! You don't find this exciting, intoxicating?" Her grey eyes were shining, and once again Duncan found himself fascinated by her intensity. She was the most alive person he had ever met.

"There are other things that excite me, but I know what you mean about the thrill of danger. We'll have to get together and talk about it sometime. Maybe lunch." Amanda seemed slightly cautious. She hadn't missed the indirect threat in Elena's speech.

But Elena had let go of Amanda by now and smiled a genuine smile. "I'd like that. Maybe we can....." she shrugged, "compare notes." Maybe this Amanda wouldn't be so bad after all, she thought.

Amanda chuckled, glancing at Duncan. "I think we have some things in common. And no, I'm not challenging you... for the moment. Unless you....."

"No, Amanda. I think we have better things to do than kill each other."

Amanda leaned conspirationally close to Elena. "We'll talk."

Elena matched her smile. "I look forward to it."

"Bye, Duncan, Richie, Elena." She waved behind her airily and was gone.

Even Richie breathed a sigh of relief.

Translations: (all French)

mon ami -- my friend

naturellement -- naturally

pas de quoi -- it's nothing, not at all

bien -- good

enchante -- charmed

n'est-ce pas? -- isn't this so?

cojones' (Span.) -- balls

PART III

Elena and Duncan got settled on his barge while Richie went to the [pension] where he usually stayed in Paris when Duncan had someone else with him on the barge, someone like Tessa or Anne or Amanda or Elena.

Richie came back with Duncan's car and they all went to get a light supper at a nearby [bistro.] They planned that same night to visit Rios' Paris address, even though they were sure Kaminsky had warned Rios of their imminent arrival.

But as they waited for midnight to come and go they all three felt the presence of an Immortal approaching the barge. Duncan said, "Stay here," to the other two and walked out the door, katana in hand, only to see a figure prone halfway up his gangplank. It was Amanda, and when he went to help her up he noticed she was bleeding. She moaned softly, "MacLeod," as he got her inside.

Elena had gone out the rear door of the barge just in time to see Duncan helping someone inside. Quietly she leaped onto the [quai] and ran across the open space to the near set of steps, putting on her glasses. Her distance vision had never been good, and she had loved the invention of eyeglasses. After observing for less than two minutes she saw some movement on the barge itself.

It was Duncan on his way out looking for her. "I told you to stay inside," he whispered angrily, and immediately regretted it when he heard her harsh sigh. He had to realize that she was as experienced a fighter as he, and he couldn't protect her, and he couldn't fight her battles for her---she simply wouldn't let him.

Elena understood his instinct and his dilemma, and she limited her reaction to an exasperated sigh. She just had to get used, again, to being with a man who naturally wanted his woman to be safe.

After only a moment he whispered more calmly, "Anything?"

"[Nada.] Who's inside?"

"Amanda. She was shot," he whispered back.

"By Hunters?" He nodded grimly. "Why don't I stay here and watch a while longer? They can't get to the barge without my seeing them. Unless they don't want to get that close. Of course they could use long distance rifles with infrared scopes to shoot us for target practice, like from the Pont Neuf."

He nodded. "Or the Pont des Arts behind us. I think I'll go for a little walk."

"If you need me, just whistle. You do know how to whistle. You just pucker up your lips and blow."

Duncan smiled in spite of himself. All he could see in the darkness was the brilliant white of her teeth against her dark face. He squeezed her hand and walked up the set of stairs, picking up Amanda's suitcase, which she had dropped on her way.

As Elena watched him go, she wondered how badly she had butchered Lauren Bacall. At least she made him smile, one point for our team! she thought. This business of being strong was very hard on the body and the mind, not to mention the nervous system. At least she had the possibility of saying to him, "I can't fight anymore, Duncan, please protect me," and throwing herself into his arms, and he would probably do it. He didn't have that luxury, but of course, neither did she. Fighting to the end had been bred into her, bred to the bone. Don Alvaro, who was the gentlest soul alive, was a merciless tyrant once a sword was in his hand.

Elena's [estancia] outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1653

With horror she sees Don Alvaro's sword descending toward her own sword arm, about to sever it. At the last possible instant, he turns his wrist and strikes her forearm with the flat of his blade instead. There is a sound of breaking bone, of a sword hitting the ground, of a scream of agony. Elena falls to her knees, her sword before her, her left arm hanging limply at her side. As she hits the ground and jars the broken arm once more, she whimpers, no strength left to scream. Her vision blurs. "I'm sorry, Don Alvaro, I can't fight anymore."

"What do you mean you can't fight anymore? Is this what you would say to an Immortal going after your head? That you're sorry?!"

"But my left arm is broken!"

"Then fight with your right arm, girl. I taught you how!"

She shakes her head. "The pain is just too bad, Don Alvaro!"

"Perhaps you think the pain of your head being separated from you body would be less?"

"I can't go on fighting. You win." She picks up her sword with her right hand to lean on.

He uses his sword to tip her face up. "If I were your enemy, your head would be mine without a struggle."

"But you're not my enemy!"

"Let us pretend, then," he says, and strikes down at her. She barely parries the blow, then a second one, and struggles painfully to her feet.

"[!Padre!]"

"I am your enemy, and an enemy would show you no mercy!" His sword is everywhere, and every movement jars her broken arm, held close against her body. She starts to feel sick to her stomach, knowing that he is fully capable of hurting her really badly; he has done so before. Now she feels clumsy, the pain in her arm excrutiating and distracting both. He easily gets inside her guard and slashes viciously at her abdomen. She doubles over, cries out and falls to her knees, head down, defeated. "No more! [!Por favor!]"

"Now you're begging! Do you know what the tragedy of this is, Elena? The tragedy is all the years I have wasted on you. You are a coward, and I am ashamed to be your teacher!"

Tears fill her eyes, and she turns her head to look up at him. He has come around to stand on her unprotected left side. His face is an unreadable mask. "How can you say this?" she cries out. "You're my best, my only friend! My father! I've done everything you've ever asked of me. I would die for you!"

"You're giving up, Elena. You're not fighting. You're making excuses. What you have done in the past doesn't matter---what you do now, at this moment---that is what matters. If I were your enemy, this is what I would do." He raises his sword with both hands above his head.

There's a frozen moment in time as she stares at him. Then, with the last of her strength, she pulls back to sit up on her thighs and stabs across her body at his unprotected torso. She had meant only to touch him, but has misjudged her stroke and her sword sinks deeply into him.

Don Alvaro arches in agony. "!Elena!" he exclaims, and collapses, dying.

When he comes back to 'life' she is cradling his head on her lap, crying. "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it.....please forgive me!"

"Elenita, you did trust me to stop, correct?"

"Of course I did. I just.....I tried to hold back..... "

"But you struck out instinctively. You kept fighting. You didn't give up. This is what I saw in you from the beginning, this spirit that made me want to be your teacher, your father and friend." He moans, still recovering. "What I said before---I was wrong. Whatever else you are, you are no coward." He smiles at her as she helps him to his feet. "You have done well, [mi hija.][?de acuerdo?]."

Paris, 1995

Elena smiled to herself. If he had lived, Don Alvaro would have loved Dylan Thomas.

There was the usual heavy traffic for an evening in Paris. Duncan walked nonchalantly but was on his guard, scrutinizing everyone. He crossed over on one bridge and came back around on the other. Everything seemed normal. When he returned there was a couple strolling along the Seine near the barge, but that, too, was normal, and he knew Elena had them in sight---he could feel her presence. He came back to her, shook his head, and they both slipped across back to the barge.

Inside Amanda was dressed in a robe, sipping a drink. "Duncan!" she exclaimed, rushing to him.

"It's alright. There's nobody out there now." He hugged her briefly but hard, then took her by the shoulders to look in her face. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, but I really thought they had me. Richie's told me about these Hunters. They're worse than just the Watchers, aren't they? Duncan, being killed by an Immortal is one thing, but losing my head to these.....these....."

"I know," he soothed. "Why don't you sit down and tell us what happened?"

Amanda took a sip. "After I left I went out to eat and then to my hotel. It's on Saint Honore, not too far from here, where I always stay when I'm in Paris. I knew I was being watched, and believe me, it was making me nervous. That's why I came here originally, to get your advice and your help."

"They attacked you at your hotel?" asked Elena, taking off her glasses. She didn't like the way they made her look like a professor, or like a nerd, although Duncan had told her they made her look sexy. She discounted his opinion as being biased.

"A man got in the elevator with me," said Amanda, as Elena shook her head, "but I didn't like the looks of him, so I stepped back out into the lobby."

"I guess you are more observant than I am," said Elena. "Or more experienced."

"Or more paranoid," contributed Richie.

"Duncan, this man shot me in the back, right outside a Paris hotel! Just shot me!"

"Damn!" exclaimed Richie.

"Well, I managed to get a taxi. I'd forgotten how much it hurt to get shot! Anyway, they must have had a car outside and followed us. I asked the taxi driver to lose them. I guess since the Hunters failed to kill me, the taxi driver tried to make up for it, but I didn't lead them here, I swear it!"

"It doesn't matter, Amanda. They probably know about the barge anyway."

"Then you're not mad? Good."

Elena came up to take Amanda's hand. "Why would he be mad at you?"

"He gets mad at me all the time," said Amanda, innocently.

"You're really shook up about this. Look, they shot me and captured me at my hotel. At least you got away before they caught you."

Now it was Amanda's turn to look concerned. "What did they do to you?"

"Not much. Duncan and Richie came to my rescue."

"It was completely unnecessary. The lady got out of those handcuffs and out of the warehouse on her own," said Richie.

"Picking locks on handcuffs. You have hidden talents!" said Amanda admiringly. "Something else we have in common."

"That's not quite how it happened....." began Richie.

"It doesn't matter," interrupted Elena. To get loose, she'd had to break many of the bones below her wrist and slip her hand out. It had been a most unpleasant experience.

"So what are we gonna do? Mac, we gotta do something!"

Duncan spoke for the first time. "We were going to Rios' place. I see no reason to change our plans. Maybe we'll get lucky and find someone this time. We'll wait until after midnight. Amanda, will you be alright here, or would you like to....."

"Oh, no, I'm not staying behind by myself. I'm coming with you! Where are you going, by the way? And who is this Rios?"

It took all of Duncan's self control to keep from saying, "Elena will stay here with you." Instead, he made the best of it. "It's a long story," he sighed.

By the time they were ready to leave Amanda had gone from sympathetic to empathetic to downright angry. "Those bastards!" she mumbled when Duncan told her how Rios and his friends had murdered Elena's pregnant friend. "No wonder you're hunting them!" she said to Elena. "You can count me in for any help I can give."

"Thanks, Amanda. As I said before, I welcome any assistance."

"How about that," smiled Richie. "Four Immortals working together! This has gotta be a first, right? I feel like you guys are the three musketeers and I'm.....what's his name?"

Elena smiled in return. "D'Artagnan?"

"Yeah, that's it!"

She held up her drink in a toast. "All for one, and one for all!"

Amanda held up her drink, and Richie his beer. "Hear, hear!"

"All right!"

Duncan downed his Scotch. "Let's go," he announced.

Translations:

pension (Fr.) -- hostel

bistro (Fr.) -- café, restaurant

quai (Fr.) -- dock

nada (Span.) -- nothing

estancia (Span.) -- Argentine combination ranch/farm

padre (Span.) -- father

por favor (Span.) -- please

mi hija (Span.) -- my daughter

de acuerdo (Span.) -- agreed

PART IV

They drove past a row of townhouses---their target, in the middle, was completely dark. "You're our B and E expert, Amanda," said Duncan.

She looked the place over. "Around back," she said. There was a narrow alleyway and a short stone fence

enclosing small yards. They went up three steps to the back door and, after examining everything carefully, she tried the doorknob and got a tingle. "It's electrified," she said. "Anyone without rubber soles is in for a shock. Which probably means the place is deserted, too." She found a likely window, went inside and disconnected the trap, letting the others slip inside.

Duncan looked around---all was quiet. "Let's do this quickly."

"What are we looking for?" whispered Richie.

"I don't know," answered Duncan, closing the door behind them.

There were two doors leading out of the kitchen. Richie went to the nearly closed one---Amanda was already at the other. "Watch out for any more little tricks," she whispered, and went through the door as Richie opened his. Something fell on him, and he cried out in anger, then in pain.

"Damn it! Mac! Mac, it's burning me, ahh!"

Duncan came to him and stepped in a liquid that had fallen from a bucket balanced over the door. Immediately his shoes began to smoke. "Acid!" he exclaimed in a stage whisper. "Take it off!" he said, peeling off Richie's jacket and then his shirt, making sure Richie's rapier was unharmed. Richie was making moaning noises, swearing, all the time trying to keep quiet. "He needs water!" said Duncan over his shoulder to Elena.

Elena had found a bucket in the kitchen and went to put it into the sink, but there was already something in the sink. She drew back in horror. "[!Dios mio!]" she whispered. But Richie still needed the water, so she gingerly lifted the severed head out by the hair and laid it on the counter, filling and emptying the bucket over Richie's back three or four times.

By this time Amanda came back, saying, "The front door knob was also electrified, so I disconnected it to keep some poor postman from frying. And I found something else out here. Come on!"

Richie said with his usual sarcasm, "Someone's seen Home Alone too many times," while Duncan gathered up his coat and shirt, as well as both sets of shoes, in a bundle. Then Duncan noticed the head on the counter. "Damn!" was all he said.

"Anyone you know?" asked Elena.

Duncan shook his head grimly, and Richie, seeing it for the first time, reacted by saying, "Oh, jeez, Mac! Who the hell is that?"

"I don't know, Richie. Let's get out of here quickly. Amanda says she found something."

Amanda had already gone back to the other room, and they followed to what appeared to be a dining room. On the table was a large envelope addressed to '[La Putana Argentina.]' "I think it's for you," she said to Elena. "Isn't that the Spanish word for....."

"Yes," answered Elena. As she took the envelope to open by the light of the window, she noticed two cars pulling up quickly. One had a bubble on its roof. Over her shoulder she said one word---"[!Policia!]" At the same time they heard a sound from the back of the house.

"The roof!" ordered Duncan, "And be careful of any little surprises on the steps!" They all ran up.

Below them they could see police lights and hear French voices in pursuit. They ran across the roofs of the townhouses and down the fire escape at the end, making it safely to the car and back to the barge. As they burst in the door, Amanda seemed excited and Richie was furious.

"They were probably watching for us, waiting for us, one step ahead of us at every turn! Damn it!" He threw his ruined jacket onto the floor.

"I don't understand why they would call the police!" breathed Amanda.

"For the same reason they had those little surprises," answered Duncan. "To annoy us. To harass us. To hurt us, to slow us down."

"Well, I hope they don't think they're going to get us to stop!" exclaimed Richie.

Elena had gone straight to the bottle of scotch they had started before. She poured and downed a glass in one gulp, feeling it burn down her throat and into her stomach, then poured another. She only drank like this when she was shook up. Alright, Elena, what is it that's bothering you so much? she asked herself. Self-deception was not one of her failings.

Duncan noticed her pour the second drink. "Elena, this is not the time for this!"

"It was the head in the sink. That's what it was. Leaving it for us like a present, so we could find it." She drank, again in one gulp, coughed, and turned to Duncan. "I'm immortal. I've seen a lot of severed heads in my time, and even I couldn't just leave one like that for others to find. What's wrong with these people?"

"What's wrong," answered Duncan, "is that they don't think of us as people. That Immortal back there....."

"What Immortal?" interrupted Amanda. Richie took her by the arm and explained in low tones.

".....that Immortal," Duncan continued, "was not a person to them, but a thing to be destroyed. Like we are." He hadn't been so angry and upset in a long time.

"Mac, what are we going to do?" Richie asked for the second time that night. Amanda and Richie looked at Duncan expectantly. Meanwhile, Elena had torn the envelope open. The only item inside was a broken chain and a cross. She looked down at the floor, saying nothing, unable to say anything, her stomach aching, her heart filling with a great grief and anger.

"For one thing, we better stick together. Divide and conquer is how they grabbed Fitz last time. Richie, you better get your things and move in here; Amanda....."

"I already have my things."

"Alright, I'll go back to the [pension] and get my stuff. Can I borrow a coat or something?" Richie was still shirtless, and he, too, was shook up.

"Sure," answered Duncan, but he was looking closely at Elena. He saw the torn envelope on the floor. Whatever was inside had affected Elena badly. He went to her.

Suddenly Elena felt the barge was stuffy and much too crowded. She had to get out. "Why don't I come with you and keep you company, Richie?" she volunteered.

"I don't really need a nursemaid."

"Think of me as a comrade in arms. Come on."

Duncan intercepted her before she could reach the door. "Are you ok?" He was concerned and angry both. He didn't like her drinking, or her reaction to this whole thing----what if this was the beginning of a slide back to the darkside? And what had she found inside that envelope?

"I'm fine."

"What was in that message? What did you find?" She was clutching something in her fist.

Her eyes burned into his. "Just because there are no lies between us, [escoces,] doesn't mean I have to tell you everything. Let it be."

Duncan was troubled and hurt. She herself had admitted she called him [escoces,] when she didn't want to get too close to him. He didn't know what was on her mind, and now she wouldn't tell him what she had found. He took her arm, pulling her aside, and whispered, "Elena, what is it? Don't you trust me?"

"Please let it be. I can't talk about it now. Let me go!" She pulled away angrily.

For a moment he held on to her, their eyes locked. He wanted very badly to force her hand open, but was sure she would react badly, maybe even fight him. If she wanted some time to think it over, he'd give it to her. But things couldn't continue this way between them. "We have to talk about this," he whispered harshly. She nodded, he finally let her go, and she rushed out.

Richie shrugged at Duncan and followed.

It was after two, and the night was dark. Pulling her cloak closer about her, Elena thought, Why would he press me like that? Why couldn't he just give me some space? But he'd looked hurt, hadn't he? I don't want to hurt him, just.....

Richie suddenly asked, "About Dawson.....you really would have taken my head, wouldn't you?"

Elena stopped to look at him. Finding Maria's chain and cross made her feel like her heart was breaking all over again. And Duncan's reaction! He wanted so much from her.....But she had to pay attention to the present. Richie made so many jokes about everything, but he obviously was really serious about taking heads. "Yes, Richie, I would have. But the one thing I've learned in four hundred years is that nothing is sure. Maybe you would have taken my head."

"Nah, I don't think so, Duran. I've been with Mac for a while now, and you're the first Immortal I've ever seen who's actually beaten him with a sword."

"I never beat him!"

"Sure you did, you killed him!"

"Richie, that was just a temporary setback. If memory serves, at the end of that fight he was sitting on my chest with his katana across my neck. That's called winning, and the only reason I'm here is because he chose to let me live."

"Yeah, and we both know why that happened!"

He was referring to the strong sexual attraction she and Duncan had felt from the beginning, but she also knew that was not the only reason Duncan spared her. "It was more than that, Richie, it was compassion. Duncan MacLeod showed mercy, which is very rare, especially in an Immortal, and probably more than I would have done for him." She walked on, but knew that was not strictly true. At one point her sword had been going straight for Duncan's throat, and she deliberately turned it aside, so she had shown mercy to him as well. And Duncan knew it. Why couldn't she just trust him, tell him what she was feeling?

Translations:

Dios mio (Span.) -- my God

la putana Argentina (Span.) -- the Argentinian whore

policia (Span.) -- police

pension (Fr.) -- hostel

escoces (Fr.) -- Scotsman

PART V

They reached Richie's hostel, packed up his bag, and were on their way back when they both sensed the other Immortal. They were close enough to the Seine, maybe....."Mac?" Richie called.

When there was no answer, Elena drew her sword in a swift, practiced move. The figure that moved to intercept them was not familiar. She stepped closer to get a better view.

"Well, well, what a fortuitous meeting. Here I was, so bored, and now I have something to amuse me again," said a deep voice. The man spoke French with a Russian accent. He was a head taller than both of them and almost as wide. Backlit they could see he held an extremely long blade.

Elena sighed. This was bad timing, because she had other things to do, because Richie was with her, because she was so upset about Maria again, because she wasn't right with Duncan, because she could feel that second drink churning inside her, and especially because the Immortal before her was a brute. "It's wonderful to be able to bring joy to others," she answered in English, for Richie's benefit. "But really, [Gospodin]....."

"My name is Vassily Ivanovich Rechenko. You have heard of me?"

Actually Elena had heard of him. He was an awesomely strong fighter, with a reputation for....."I fight every Immortal I meet!" That was it.

"And why not, [tovarisch?] You're probably twice the size of every Immortal you meet. But actually, we were just out for an early stroll. Neither of us is looking for a fight."

"Well," laughed Rechenko, "I cannot help being large, can I?"

"No, but you can help fighting everybody you meet."

"Look, comrade," put in Richie, "it's been a very long day. All we want to do is go home and get a good night's sleep, alright?"

"You know, I love the sound of fear in someone's voice," he answered, amused.

Elena and Richie looked at each other. Maybe they wouldn't be able to walk away from this one after all.

"You first, woman. Then the boy."

"How do you know he's not five hundred years older than you? Anyway, you're going to have to settle for just me. My name is Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte, and he was just leaving." She turned to Richie and said to him, "Please go."

"Forget it!" was Richie's answer. "Just who does this guy think he is, anyway?"

"Would you give me a moment, Vassily?"

The Russian bowed and saluted with his longsword. "The condemned are always entitled to one last request, of course. I will simply find him later."

Elena took Richie aside. "Go to Duncan. If I don't join you in one half hour....."

"No way I'm leaving you, Duran! Do you know what Mac would say to me.....?"

"That you did the right thing. One on one, remember? That's the rule. And I'm first. If he can take my head with that longsword, he can take yours."

Richie shook his head and started to speak.

"Richie, do you think I'll die any easier knowing you will die after me?" It was the same argument Don Alvaro had used to gert her away so he could fight and die at the hands of St. Cloud. It worked on her, and now it worked on Richie. He was still shaking his head, but she physically pushed him away, saying, "Tell Duncan that I love him."

"How touching, Elena," sneered Rechenko. "Are you finished with your goodbyes?"

"I'm not finished, Vassily. I'm just starting." She attacked. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Richie back away and move off into the dark night. Elena Duran was a large, strong woman---fully as tall and perhaps even wider than Richie, she was composed mostly of lean muscle. She had spent most of her four hundred years practicing how to fight, and she was as good a swordswoman and hand-to-hand-fighter as she could possibly be.

On the other hand, Vassily Rechenko was a head taller and outweighed her by about fifty kilos, a little over a hundred pounds. He was, simply, a bull, and the best example she could think of the phrase, "The bigger they are, the harder they hit." He also had a longer reach and a longer sword, but she knew she was faster. If she could just dart in, hit and run and wear him down, she had a chance.

If she could withstand the battering.

But her mental attitude wasn't right, and she had no time to psych herself up. She thought of what her father would say. "[!Fajate, Elenita! No os des por vencida!]" Never give up!

She very quickly realized that she'd be forced to hold her sword two handed---with one hand she couldn't withstand the sheer force of his blows. But she could avoid him, sometimes.

It was a deadly dance, and seemed to last forever. Her arms and shoulders quickly got extremely tired, but Rechenko had only cut her twice, neither time seriously. She, on the other hand, had managed to slice and jab him several times. She could tell he was tiring, too, and hurting, as he perceptibly slowed down, but she knew she couldn't last much longer either. Constant movement had its dangers, too.

She almost tripped, and he was right on top of her, but she just avoided a swing that would have cut her in half. And then she felt it, the presence of an Immortal behind her. Apparently so did Rechenko, because he looked up and past her, and she took advantage of his momentary lapse to lunge in an all out effort. She felt her sword go into his chest and kept pushing forward to the hilt, twisting. Rechenko bellowed a curse down into her face and started to fall down on top of her. She pulled back quickly, pulling her sword out with such force that she fell back to the ground. Elena landed badly---her head hit the pavement too hard, and something dug deeply into her back. She knew the fight wasn't over, but she was too stunned to move, on the edge of consciousness, and just lay there, panting.

Amanda had settled down onto the sofa, but Duncan paced up and down until he felt the buzz approaching rapidly. Richie burst in through the door, waking Amanda.

"Mac!" he panted. "We ran across another Immortal, just on the other side of the Louvre!"

"Who?"

"He's a Russian, his name is Rechenko! He challenged Duran, and she told me to get back here! Mac, the guy's a monster, he's six six, two sixty! He'll kill her, Mac!"

Duncan was already on his way out the door, with Richie close behind. He quickly decided the car would be too slow and just ran. His whole body felt cold. From what he had heard of the Russian Immortal Vassily Rechenko, Richie was right---Elena would be like a child against his strength. He also knew that if they had already started combat there was nothing he could do for her; he could only watch her win or die.

They ran around the museum to a little side street; as they got close Duncan heard the distinctive sound of steel on steel. As they came around the corner he saw that the man was as large as he had heard. But suddenly Rechenko looked towards Duncan and Richie, and Elena chose that moment to make her move.

She lunged.

Duncan couldn't see what happened exactly---her body blocked the action---but she fell backward, hard, as the the Russian fell forward. Then something completely unexpected happened.

Out of the darkness beyond the fighters a woman ran out and knelt next to Rechenko. "Vassily!" she cried. "[Vassily, leve-toi, mon amour, je t'en prie!]" She shook him.

Duncan MacLeod had never deliberately interfered in an Immortal battle, but he was not about to let anyone else do so. When he got to the woman she was trying to lift Rechenko's longsword, presumably to use on Elena. Duncan wrapped his long arms around her and pulled her away. The sword fell to the ground and she screamed. "[Non! Laisse-moi! Au secours!]"

She was very young, still in her teens, and small enough that he could hold her with one arm; he put his other hand over her mouth. She fought him like a wildcat, but he lifted her up and dragged her away from the two prone figures. "Mmmm!" she mumbled, trying to bite him.

They came back to where Richie was still standing, she still struggling wildly. Duncan whispered in her ear, in French, "We have to let them fight it out themselves! We can't interfere!"

She kept struggling, kicking, trying to yell.

For a long moment Elena lay there, making long wheezing, pained sounds, but still alive! How he longed to go to her, to pick her up, to help her! But he and Richie had probably already interfered by distracting them.

All he could do was stand there and keep the girl away. "Get up, Elena," he murmured under his breath, as the minutes passed. "It's not over yet, get up, now!"

Slowly she rolled up to her knees, holding her head, moaning, using her sword for support.

She's taking too long! he thought. Finally she was standing in front of her opponent, leaning on her sword and shaking her head slowly, maybe trying to clear it. "Damn it!" he muttered. "Kill him, Elena. Kill him now!"

The French girl coiled like a spring and suddenly, in a burst of strength, almost got away from him. Her mouth was free. assily! Non! Laisse-moi! Vassily!]"

Duncan muttered in her ear again. "Listen to me. I'll let you go if you promise not to interfere."

"But he'll die!" she cried.

"They have to finish it on their own. You can't help him!"

After what seemed like hours and was just minutes Duncan saw Rechenko start to move.

Apparently Richie saw him too. "Mac!" he exclaimed in a whisper.

Duncan only held the French girl by her arm---she tried to rush forward, but he was too fast for her. "Stay!" he ordered, pulling her back again.

Elena still stood, then agonizingly slowly she shifted slightly to the right of the other Immortal. Rechenko lifted his head, making guttural sounds, then gathered his arms under his chest, and Elena still stood, head down. She seemed to be having trouble with her sword, but as he started to lift up she swung, saying os vedonya, Vassily Ivanovich Rechenko. !Solamente puede haber una!]"

Elena took a step back and fell to her knees again as his head fell from his shoulders. Her own head still wasn't clear, but she knew she'd gathered enough strength to decapitate him. If she could only have a few minutes to recover, to just rest, but immediately his Quickening left him and went to her, her whole body convulsed, and she screamed in a mixture of pain and delight. The first thing to invade her was always the consciousness of the other Immortal, his/her personality trying to overcome her in her weakened state. Other Immortal personalities, too, attacked her then, trying to become the strongest, to rule her mind. But once she established control (and sometimes it was harder than others), she always felt a surge of power and joy not unlike sexual ecstacy, but many times stronger and mixed with incredible pain.

Her continuing screams were drowned out by the lightning, the sounds of building and car windows breaking, lights exploding, electricity flashing off. The light show seemed to last forever, and when it was over, Elena collapsed, still conscious but too exhausted to move.

Duncan finally let her go, and the French girl ran to Rechenko with a cry of pure pain. Duncan came to help Elena to her feet, then hugged her tightly. He had no words----the last time he felt so relieved was when she had escaped from the Hunters in the warehouse stateside. But now he was looking over at the girl, kneeling on the ground, rocking back and forth, sobbing.

"Who is she?" asked Elena, still breathing hard. She still felt dizzy and disoriented, but felt herself getting stronger by the minute.

"She was with Rechenko. She saw everything, and I'm pretty sure she knows about us."

"Why would he tell her about Immortals? Duncan, she's just a child!"

Richie helped the girl to her feet. He tried his halting French. "I'm sorry, miss.....look, maybe I can walk you home....."

"!Non! Don't touch me!" she cried, pulling away from him.

Richie tried again. "I just want to help....."

"Liar! Where were you when Vassily needed your help, when I needed your help before?" she spat out.

"Look, he was going to kill me next!" he said in English, exasperated.

"If you truly want to help me, then kill her!" The girl pointed to Elena. "Take her head!"

Elena closed her eyes, remembering how she had felt, over the centuries, when someone she loved had died. She took the girl by the shoulders, not allowing her to break away. "Listen! Listen to me! Vassily and I just did what we had to do, what we're supposed to do!" She didn't bother to add that they didn't have to fight, that they could have just walked away, but he wouldn't let her.

"He wasn't supposed to lose! He said he would always win! He was so strong! He was supposed to take your head! You were supposed to die, not him!"

"I know, and I'm sorry. I know how you feel."

"No you don't, you can't....."

"I've been alive for almost four hundred years, girl! Do you think I've never lost anyone?" This was too harsh, and the girl glared at her, teary-eyed.

"I don't know how, but I swear I'll kill you!"

Elena shook her. "No, listen to me, child. You stay away from me! There are enough people after my head, you'd only get in harm's way! You go home, and you live the rest of your life, and you remember him. That's all you can do."

"I hate you! I will kill you, I swear it!"

Elena released her. "Go home! Richie, can you help her out?"

"Sure."

"Non! I want no help from any of you." She backed away, then added. "You watch yourself, Maria Elena Duran y Agramonte! I heard your name! I will kill you!"

Elena had been threatened by cold, skilled fighters many times. She was more worried about the girl getting hurt.She sighed and closed her eyes, reaching into her mind, and said, "Danielle? You're Danielle, right?" The girl stopped moving away. "[Ma petite.] He used to call you [ma petite,] didn't he?"

Danielle seemed frozen. "How did you.....???"

"He loved you, Danielle. And he wants you to live."

"What are you saying?" she was panting, more frightened now, apparently, than before.

"Live for him, Danielle. He wants you to have a full, happy life. He's telling me this, right now. He's inside me." She opened her eyes and looked at the young girl. "Do you understand?"

Instead of answering, Danielle ran off into the darkness.

Duncan nodded at Richie, who followed her. Duncan was impressed Elena's compassion. He put his arm around her. "Are you alright?"

She didn't answer. For a moment they stood in silence, then she reached into a pocket, opened his hand, and put Maria's broken chain and cross in it. He took a long look, guessing what it meant. Then they walked back to the barge.

Translations:

Gospodin (Russian) -- mister

tovarisch' (Russian) -- comrade

fajate' (Span.) -- fight

no os des por vencida (Span.) -- don't give up

leve-toi, mon amour, je t'en prie! -- (Fr.)get up, my love, I beg you

laisse-moi (Fr.) -- let me go

au secours (Fr.) -- help

dos vedonya (Russian) -- goodbye

solamente puede haber una (Span.) -- There can be only one

ma petite (Fr.) -- my little one

"Do not go gentle into that good night," by Dylan Thomas

Part VI

On the third day, Duncan said, "Enough!" Four Immortals, all killers, all armed, all paranoid, all losing sleep, and all holed up on the barge, made for short tempers, and he was afraid they'd wind up killing each other.

They went everywhere in pairs; every night they took guard duty in shifts. There was absolutely no sign of Rios, Kaminsky, or any other Hunter, and they had absolutely no idea where to look for them. Their only physical relief was going to a nearby fencing studio, and they could only practice and sweat and disarm unsuspecting fencers for so long.

On the third day, Richie and Amanda packed up their belongings to move to a small private rented home on the Rue Sauval, three blocks from the river. They had a cell phone to keep in touch, and they were supposed to stay pretty much together for the duration, but at least they each had their own bedroom and some privacy.

Duncan felt a little guilty about leaving Richie alone with Amanda, but it was worth it to feel free again. And he absolutely needed, needed to spend some time alone with Elena.

While Duncan gave Richie and Amanda some last minute instructions, Elena took her clothes off. She had another kind of tension to worry about. She lay back on the bed, shivering slightly. She could hear the sound of his voice at the door, and she closed her eyes, imagining his hands on her. Her nipples hardened; her heart started to beat faster.

When Duncan came back inside the barge he saw Elena's jeans on the floor, then her blouse, her panties, a clear trail to follow. He looked across and saw her, naked, on the bed.

As he came closer, she arched her back like a cat, and made a sound deep in her throat. The pulse at the base of her neck was throbbing, and she held a hand out to him. "[Veni, mi amor, veni,]" she said.

Duncan smiled and quickly removed his own clothes. Her hair lay loose like a curtain behind her, reaching halfway to her waist. He knelt by the bed and kissed her left foot thoroughly, then her right. She squirmed. Then with his lips, tongue, and fingertips, he went up the soft skin of her leg, her calf, the muscles tense with pleasure and anticipation, up to her knee, then back down and up the other leg, slowly.

Ignoring his own urgent hunger for her, he caressed and kissed her right knee. With a feather touch, he ran his fingers up the inside of her thighs. He could smell her.

Elena's back arched even more, if possible, her breath coming in gasps. "Please, Duncan, please!" she pleaded with him, reaching down and pulling his hair, trying to pull him further up her body.

But he wasn't finished yet. He made a satisfied sound, kissing his way up her thighs---then they sensed another Immortal.

"!No!" she groaned, "please, can't you just....." and Duncan thought, If it's Richie, I'll kill him! just as Richie came through the door.

"Hey Mac, guess who's here? Dawson!" said Richie, then added, "Whoa! Sorry, look, we'll....."

"Come on in, Richie," sighed Duncan, pulling on his pants. He looked at Elena in frustration. She felt like she wanted to cry; instead she put on a robe and tied it angrily.Richie, Dawson and Amanda all came inside---Amanda looked like she wanted to say something, but Duncan glared at her and she limited herself to a small giggle.

"I was just filling Dawson in on what happened. Mac, he thinks he may have a lead on Rios!"

"Hello, Dawson. Where is he?" asked Duncan. Finding Fernando Rios was the best thing that could happen to them right now---any amount of danger was better than sitting and waiting.

Dawson nodded at MacLeod and Elena. "First of all, I don't know where he is. Rios was a Watcher until two years ago. We think that's when some Immortals started getting killed by Hunters again. But now we think he also killed some of those Immortals' Watchers. He was in Mexico watching an American named Gordon Powell; both Powell and his Watcher, Carlotta Parona, disappeared about twenty months ago."

"Gordon Powell and I had been friends since 1862," said Elena bitterly. "He was shot down in the middle of the street, carted off like a side of beef, and his body was never found!"

Dawson nodded and continued. "Sixteen months ago Rios was spotted in Buenos Aires by another Watcher, Pedro Gonzalez. Gonzalez' body was found in an alley, killed by a sword. He was your Watcher, Duran, so we thought you'd killed him. It's happened before when Immortals have found out about us; it's a risk we're willing to take." He looked hard at Elena. "Did you kill him?"

"I didn't start killing Watchers until after they murdered Maria on the 10th of November 1993. I didn't even know about them before that."

"That's what I thought," Dawson said. "Gonzalez was killed in September. We think Rios did it---and that he was after you."

"He was, and he found us. But if you knew this so called 'renegade' Watcher was after me, why didn't you warn me? Or is this against your rules?" Elena was going to stay calm; she refused even to raise her voice. But the anger was obvious.

"Yes, it is against our rules, but we didn't know he was after you. Remember, we thought you'd done it. Anyway, we lost track of Rios. We didn't even know about this Paris address. I can tell you that other Hunters you're likely to find with him include your friend and mine, Evan Kaminsky. When Kaminsky turned he took with him two brothers, Glenn and Randall Morrison. I'm pretty sure you've met them both, Duran. We think Glenn was one of the five men at that warehouse in Seattle. His brother, Randall, was found in Managua, Nicaragua, beaten with a blunt instrument and finally killed by a sword."

"It was a baseball bat," said Elena quietly. "I remember him. I don't blame his brother for wanting my head." There was a long silence. Elena wanted to regret having killed the man in such a way, but she felt too cold about it, and couldn't quite bring herself to do it.

And Duncan just wondered if she was sorry at all.

"Yeah," Dawson finally said. "Well, we have found others of his.....friends.....in the Watchers, and we've flushed some of them out, worldwide."

"And what are you going to do about them, Dawson?" asked Duncan. "How are you going to stop them?"

"You'll have to trust that we'll take care of our own problems, the way I ultimately took care of Horton. Or tried."

"I'm trusting you, Dawson, remember?" asked Elena.

"I know. And after you kill these Hunters, what then, Duran? Will you stop killing? Can you stop?"

Elena leaned into him, her face centimeters from his. "What gives you the right to judge me, Dawson?" she asked between clenched teeth. "It was your Watchers who turned killers first!" No matter how she tried, she would forever dislike Joe Dawson.

"And you've taken your pound of flesh, Duran! These names are all I'm going to give you. Will you be satisfied with them?"

"If not, your Watchers will kill me, is that it?" she asked, sarcastically.

"That's not the way we work! But if we have to protect ourselves, we will."

Elena could see that Dawson was scared, but he stood firm. "For almost four centuries I've been threatened by the best, Dawson. You don't even come close! But I'll keep my word. I won't kill any more Watchers. Will you be satisfied with that?"

"I guess I'll have to be."

The others stood back while Elena and Dawson had their confrontation, but now Duncan said, "Do you have any idea where we can find any of these men, Dawson?"

"Sorry, no, but I do have something for you. I went to visit Anna Kaminsky, and she mentioned he let it slip that he was on his way to Paris to, quote, make the biggest acquisition of his career! unquote. She thought he was talking about some special sword."

"But you and I know better," said Duncan grimly.

"They're after some Immortal!" put in Richie. "But who?"

Dawson, Duncan and Amanda looked at each other, but Amanda was the first to say it. "Methos."

"Methos? Damn! He's the oldest Immortal there is! If they nail him....." exclaimed Richie.

"We'll lose his quickening. All his experience; all his knowledge; all that he has been; all lost, just like Darius." Duncan felt sick at the thought of it.

"But Methos is a legend," put in Elena.

Duncan looked at her, shaking his head. "He may be a legend, but he's also real. I've met him. He's a friend. And I'm not going to let his five thousand years of life be lost to the Hunters!"

Five thousand years, thought Elena. [!Madre de Dios!]

"I've already tried to get in touch with Adam Pierson," said Dawson. Nobody's heard from him for two days."

"But that's not unusual for him. He's certainly disappeared before! Maybe it's time for him to move on," said Amanda.

"Who's Adam Pierson?" asked Elena.

"Adam Pierson is a Watcher who's in charge of locating Methos. Except that he is Methos," said Dawson.

"Methos is a Watcher? And the Watchers know this?" asked Elena, incredulously.

"No, I know it. The other Watchers don't have a clue."

"So, you've broken your own precious rules for him."

"I'm breaking the rules now by talking to the four of you! But Adam is a friend, and so are MacLeod, and Richie and Amanda. I just want to make sure, Duran, that I haven't just set Methos up for you to take his head!"

"I'm not like Rechenko, challenging every Immortal I meet. Besides, I wouldn't take the head of one of Duncan's friends." She waved her arm around the room. "As you can see, Amanda and Richie are both still alive."

"Yes, that's very sweet of you, gracias," said Amanda sarcastically---but she was smiling.

Elena bowed.

"My bet is, you find Methos and Rios won't be too far away. I've already put out the word that he may be in danger, but you four have an easier way of finding him---that Immortal radar of yours."

"Richie, why don't you and Amanda drop off your things at the house and go with Dawson to Methos' place, see if you can find anything. Elena and I are going to visit Marcus Constantine. Methos isn't the only old Immortal in Paris," he answered.

Their visit to Constantine taught Elena two things. The first was that Roman and Egyptian antiquities were much more fascinating when explained by a museum curator who had been there. The second was that Duncan MacLeod was fully capable of taking the head of one of his lovers. When Constantine described Elena as "another beautiful, willful woman, full of notions of revenge," she didn't miss the reference or the warning.

For Duncan the visit was more painful than he'd hoped, bringing back terrible memories of another fight he would have given almost anything to avoid, again, God, am I doomed to keep killing the people I love, Brian, Michael Moore, Nefertiri? Who was next? Elena? Please, no! he agonized in his mind, thinking the same things Elena was thinking.

In spite of Constantine's reassurances, they left still worried about his safety, as he was a stationary target. Still, Duncan believed that not all Watchers knew about every Immortal---or else why try to steal Dawson's disks---and Rios had been based in the Americas anyway.

Methos, on the other hand, had been avoiding Mortals and Immortals alike for five milennia and was not going to be easily caught. Because he was a researcher, he could be in any museum, church or library in Paris, a city filled with museums, churches and libraries---and that was only if he wasn't already in hiding or had simply left the city. Dutifully, Duncan and Elena, and Richie and Amanda, made the rounds of all the most likely places.

"Boy, look at me, I'm covered in dust from all these museums!" complained Richie.

Amanda smiled at him.

Duncan had noticed after just the first day that Amanda and Richie seemed to be touching a little too much, smiling at each other, even giggling. Well, it was none of his business, and Richie was a grown man, capable of making his own decisions, except that in Amanda's clutches he was as helpless as a child. At least, Duncan rationalized, Amanda wouldn't hurt Richie deliberately, and they were probably having a good time together. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Duncan felt he should be jealous, but Elena took up so much of his time and energy that he couldn't even think about another woman, not even Amanda.

They spent two days at the fencing studio or looking for Methos or checking in with Dawson or watching for Hunters, and two nights sleeping and making love and watching for Hunters. Elena still had her nightly [pesadilla]---it had lasted too long to go away easily---but it was more bearable because Duncan was there to soothe her and to love her. "Maybe," she said in a shaky voice, her heart pounding, pressing her sweat-soaked body against his, "maybe when this is over the nightmare will go away once and for all, Duncan. Please God! If I thought I'd have this same dream, seeing that head rolling toward me every night for the rest of my life, the rest of my immortal life....."

"No, sweetheart, this nightmare will end! The sleeping and the waking one both!"

"I don't know, [querido].....I just can't stand this every night.....I feel so helpless.....you must be so tired of this....."

"No, no, come here." He hugged her again. "It'll be alright," he said, burying his face in her hair. He thought back to the terror he'd felt when Garrick had filled his dreams, and even his waking moments, with that horrifying hooded creature, and shuddered, knowing what she was going through. "Nothing lasts forever. Not even for us."

Translations:

veni, mi amor (Span.) -- come here, my love

Madre de Dios (Span.) -- Mother of God

pesadilla (Span.) -- nightmare

querido (Span.) -- beloved

PART VII

The very next day Elena was in the stacks of one of the small book collections at the Sorbonne, a musty smell in the air. As much as she loved books, she was beginning to get tired of them, she knew how Richie felt....then she sensed the Immortal. She couldn't tell one buzz from another----but this particular presence was different, overwhelming her.

For a brief moment, until she adjusted, she found it difficult to even think. It was like playing the same Immortal melody but fortissimo and in a different key, and had a kind of....depth that she hadn't felt before; it seemed to resonate in her head, filling it, like an echo; and it reminded her of....

Paris, 1654

"Darius!" says Don Alvaro with a flourish. The man before her is very tall and thin. He is dressed in a monk's habit, his brown hood pushed back, his dark hair cropped.

Elena has been taught from the cradle to revere all things of the Holy Mother Church, so she automatically respects this priest. But she fails to see any trace of the great warrior he was supposed to be.

His smile is so friendly he looks harmless, and so genuine it makes her warm up to him immediately. But his most unusual aspect is his Immortal presence. It seems substantially stronger and reverberates in her head like a Church hymn. It's so real she feels she can almost reach out and touch it.

"Don Alvaro Duran y Agramonte! How nice to see you again, old friend. And this child---she's charming! I am very pleased to meet you. Please sit down, both of you. Some tea?" He proceeds to serve them a concoction so vile it makes Elena choke, but she dutifully swallows it, listening with half an ear to the the men speaking in Latin (a language she has been struggling with for twenty years now).

He suddenly turns to her, and in flawless Spanish says, "You are so fortunate, Elena, to have met up with Don Alvaro. He is a caballero of the old school, and although a bit too bloodthirsty for my taste, a splendid man all around!"

"Yes, I know how lucky I am, padre!"

Don Álvaro laughs, obviously pleased. "We can't all be holy like you, Darius, or stay on holy ground. We each have our job to do, right? And she's turning out to be my best student! But you should talk about being bloodthirsty, with the battles you've fought! I'd like you particularly to tell Elena about your siege of Paris."

"There's not much to tell," he says modestly, but proceeds to spin a fascinating tale about war and peace.

Elena is mesmerized. Over the next few weeks he manages to teach her chess, a game Don Alvaro loves but feels she is too impatient to learn. They have great conversations about every possible subject, and she leaves knowing more Latin and with a new appreciation of what can be achieved with a long life.

When Don Álvaro's head is taken five years later, the first person Elena thinks to run to for comfort and rotection is Darius, and he helps to soothe the unbearable pain and solitude she feels. In his presence, her mind and heart are full.

Paris, 1995

"Methos!" She was looking at the most unobtrusive of men----short, thin, with possibly a vague Middle Eastern cast (Sumerian? she wondered, Babylonian? Egyptian?), he looked nothing like what she expected, then realized Methos had survived for five thousand years on brains, not brawn, and probably by being overlooked, not by drawing attention to himself. Yet, she wondered.....

He bowed with a rather mocking smile, neither confirming nor denying her accusation. "You're wondering what my quickening would be like, and even thinking I don't look so tough, so how can you go about taking my head."

It was a statement, not a question, and Elena couldn't help smiling. He was perceptive and blunt, two qualities she admired. "And you're thinking that you're much too clever and quick to be taken, especially by a mere woman."

"I gave up the idea that women were the weaker sex centuries ago! As a matter of fact, I believe the female is the deadlier of the species, and if I'm any judge, you are a particularly dangerous specimen." He put down his book and stood---she noticed the table was still between them---but if he was in the least bit nervous he gave absolutely no sign.

Five thousand years would tend to make you the ultimate Mr. Cool, she thought. She said, "I'm Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte, and I'll take that as a compliment!"

"It was meant to be, and that sounds like the beginnings of a challenge. Is it?"

"No! Actually, Duncan MacLeod and I have been looking for you for days....."

"Ah, you're a friend of Duncan's! He always had exquisite taste in women!"

Elena smiled. "Another compliment! You are either the most gracious man alive, or very scared and not showing it in the least."

Methos' smile was charming. "Which do you think?"

"We can talk about it over lunch. I'm supposed to meet Duncan at Chez Armand at noon. Won't you join us?"

He nodded, studying her. "You suit him. Duncan needs a strong person beside him. I hope that means Amanda is free."

Elena thought back to Amanda and Richie. "You can ask her yourself---she's been looking for you too." She looked at her watch. "The Metro station, or do you have a car?"

Methos hadn't moved. "Tell me why I should trust you, Señorita."

She sighed. "I can't think of a reason. But at least before you go, let me warn you...."

Methos came around the table suddenly. "I'll come with you." He looked her up and down carefully. "You fought him, didn't you?" he asked.

Elena was surprised. "Yes!"

"I thought so," he smiled, and walked past her, brushing against her shoulder.

It suddenly occurred to Elena that while discussing how he didn't trust her, she hadn't thought about not trusting him, and he had managed to get within striking distance, and she'd let him! She shook her head---very clever! 'I'll have to be very alert with this one,' she thought, as she followed him out.

Duncan was sitting at an outdoor table, sipping wine, when he sensed another Immortal. This time, however, it felt stronger than usual, and he assumed it was more than one. He easily spotted Elena and Methos, walking toward him, side by side. She looked breathtakingly beautiful, with her long hair, long legs, and that incredibly strong spark of life. And she was laughing out loud! Duncan had never seen Elena actually laugh----well, only giggle and make that amused sound deep in her throat when he.......

They walked up to him. Elena was laughing so hard she couldn't speak!

Duncan signaled to the waiter, then said, "Hello, Methos," smiling broadly. He wrapped Elena up in one arm. "What's the joke?"

Elena wiped the tears from her eyes. That was one she hadn't heard, and she suspected Methos had a thousand such funny stories. What a delightful, charming man he was! Although she still didn't completely trust him, she figured dying laughing wouldn't be such a bad way to go. But now, looking at Duncan, she felt her heart turn over as she always did. He was so beautiful, and so kind, and he was hers! She pressed against him.

Methos looked from one to the other. "Duncan, I approve. Elena is wonderful! I haven't been in such charming company in a century! And you two are perfect together, like Katharina and Petrucchio!"

"But they were always fighting! And believe me, there's no taming this one! I wouldn't want to try anyway."

"Well, I didn't want to say Romeo and Juliet, because they both died in the end," said Methos.

"And don't say Antony and Cleopatra. I've already heard all about them from someone who was there," said Elena.

"And who said I wasn't there?" smiled Methos.

"Besides, they both died in the end too," she added, turning serious.

"My dear girl, everyone dies in the end. Even us," he replied, also serious.

Duncan looked around. The last time he had been at this restaurant he and his companion had been shot at by Horton's Hunters. Now Ríos's Hunters were after them. He sighed. Did nothing ever change? But Methos was proposing a toast, and Duncan quickly snatched up his glass.

"To young love, and the time to enjoy it!" Duncan and Elena both looked at Methos closely, thinking he was making fun of them, but he seemed perfectly sincere, so they drank.

Then Methos added, "Now tell me what great danger you wish to warn me about."

Duncan and Elena caught him up, but Methos' reply was typical. "These Hunters have been around since Immortals have been around. They still haven't managed to destroy us! And, really, what is the worst they can do? Take our heads?"

"You really don't care?" asked Elena. "

It's not that I don't care, it's just that....to coin a current phrase, 'been there, done that, got the t-shirt.' Do you understand?"

"Not completely, but I can see what you mean. You think life has no more surprises for you."

"I rather think death would be a surprise."

Duncan had heard all this before, but he was too much of a survivor to agree. Or maybe too young. "Well, if you don't mind, some of us enjoy your company and your funny stories," said Duncan, glancing at Elena, "and would like to have you around for a while longer. Also, if they kill you, everything you have learned will be lost, like it was with Darius."

"Yes, I heard about Darius. Pity. But you're right----if these Hunters take my head, I hope you're around to take the quickening, Duncan. Although it may be more than you can handle," he added, winking at Elena.

"We can protect you. Elena is a good fighter, and you know me, I'm willing to....."

"Yes, I know, Duncan, but anonymity has always been my best protection. Actually, if you're being watched now, they've seen me with you, and I might be in real trouble." He said this with a sardonic smile.

Duncan looked around again, this time alarmed. "Don't worry, I intend to stick around with you for a bit, if only to see Amanda again. Also, if you're in Paris, I'm sure Dawson is too. I haven't seen him in a while."

Duncan felt uncomfortable on the subject of Amanda, but decided to let him find out for himself. "We can meet Amanda back at the barge, if you think it's safe. As for Dawson, he is here, and he's worried about you."

"Dawson was always a worrier. Shall we go?" They paid and left the restaurant. Duncan's car was around the corner, but before they reached it he took Elena's hand and crossed the street, Methos following.

"There's someone behind us," he said to them.

"I thought I was just being paranoid because when I looked I didn't see anyone," she said.

"You're not paranoid if they're really out to get you," replied Duncan.

"An old man in a grey overcoat," contributed Methos.

Duncan nodded. They slowed down, and at a prearranged moment Duncan and Elena suddenly turned around and grabbed the man, each under one arm, and hustled him into an alleyway.

Duncan kicked a door open. It was a deserted passageway, and they slammed the man hard against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. He had a tatoo. [¡Que sorpresa!] thought Elena. Duncan held him up by his right arm; Elena by his left. As soon as she had his complete attention she pulled a short dagger out of thin air and pressed the tip against his lower eyelid. Psychological warfare. He froze, looking at her in terror.

"Let's make this very simple. You know who I am. Now. No denials, no second chances. Just talk or die."

She spoke in English, and there was a chance he wouldn't understand it, but he said, "Look, I....."

"Who sent you?" She could feel him tremble under her hand, but he remained silent. 'Why did they have to be so stubborn?' she raged inwardly. "Alright. One, two....." she lowered the dagger to his middle and pulled it back, ready to plunge in. She felt Duncan stiffen beside her, but ignored it. Just stay with me, Duncan, please! she thought.

Duncan wasn't about to let her kill this man. If he was a Watcher, he was basically innocent. If he was a Hunter, Duncan wanted a better chance to ask him questions, or to let him go and then follow him. But Elena had taken over, and all he could do was react to her. He hoped she was bluffing.

"I'm a Watcher. You already know that. Just a Watcher, that's all." He had a New York Jewish accent.

"Who sent you?" she asked again.

"My superiors. Look, señorita, if you're going to kill me, why don't you just get it over with before I embarass myself. But keep in mind that someone else will take my place. You may have eternal life, but we have eternal....... determination. We won't give up."

"You've made a fatal mistake here."

"Yes, my mistake was letting you see me. You see, my previous assignment was....well....not too bright. He didn't last too long. Anyway, he never spotted me. I got careless. And you and your friend here, MacLeod, are very good."

In spite of herself, Elena was intrigued. "What's your name?"

"Bernie Liebowitz. From the Bronx. As if you couldn't tell the moment I opened my mouth." He looked from one Immortal to the other. "Believe me, I'm the most inoffensive person in the world. I haven't the slightest intention of harming you. I just observe. And even if I meant you any harm, which I don't, by the way, what could I do? I mean, I saw you a few nights ago with that humongous Russian, oy vey! I thought he'd have you for a late night snack! I don't know how you had the guts to face him! Actually, I feel nothing but admiration for you. And also quite a bit of fear." He paused, then said quiety, "Don't kill me."

It was a sincere, simple request, and Duncan couldn't imagine her refusing it. He also believed that Bernie was either the genuine article or as good an actor as Laurence Olivier. He saw Elena's knife hand relax slightly, but she could still kill him with one easy thrust. He just didn't think she wanted to anymore.

She didn't, and she wouldn't anyway, because she'd given her word, to Dawson of all people. In the last two years Elena had heard a lot of men and women ask her not to kill them. She had always ignored the request---until now. "Bernie," she began, "I like you."

"Well that's a relief!"

"That's why I'm going to let you go this time. But when I see you again, I'll kill you. Do you understand?"

"Oh, don't say that! I thought we'd established, well, some sort of rapport here."

"You think I'm joking!"

"No, believe me, I take you very seriously! I know that you've killed other Watchers, and not just with a single clean knife thrust, either. But I figured, what the hell, it's my last assignment, I might as well go out with a bang. When you think about it, watching a beautiful young woman is not too bad for a man my age. Even if she is a killer."

In spite of her instinctive dislike for Watchers, Elena couldn't help smiling. She released him and so did Duncan, agreeing with her decision.

"You're taking all the fun out of this, Bernie."

"I'm sorry."

"Go home and stay away from me. You're just in harm's way, and even if I don't kill you on sight, I'll do nothing to keep you from being killed." They walked out into the alley where Methos was waiting.

"Not one of the Hunters, I take it," said Methos.

"I hope not," answered Duncan.

When they got back to the barge, Methos said, "You moved the barge, but I think they'll find you anyway."

Duncan gave him a disgusted look. There was a buzz from inside, and he hoped it was Richie and/or Amanda. The last thing he needed now was a challenge. When they came inside Amanda handed Elena the phone and called out, "Methos! How wonderful to see you again! Let me introduce you to Richard Ryan......"

Duncan watched as Elena said, "Durán." There was a long silence, then, "What are you saying?" She listened and closed her eyes. Duncan came closer. "If this is a trap, Bernie, you'd better pray that they take all our heads." Her voice was chilling.

Then Duncan distinctly heard Dawson's voice, and Elena said, "Thank Bernie for me, Dawson. And thank YOU." She felt a thrill. "[!Al fin encontramos a esos asesinos!]" she murmured "[¡Ahora si! Gracias a Dios!]" She turned to the others and announced, "We have them!"

PART VIII

There was a sudden silence, then Richie asked, "Now, are you sure this information is legit? I mean, can we trust whoever it came from?"

Duncan knew Elena would act on Bernie's information whether she trusted him or not; she couldn't not do it. But for the rest of them---all their lives might depend on Duncan's answer because they trusted Duncan's judgement.

Except, maybe, for Methos.

"Who can we trust, Richie?" He sighed. "I'm going with Elena. You'll have to make up your own minds."

Elena echoed his sentiments. "This has nothing to do with trust, Richie. If Rios himself were to call me and tell me he has a trap set up just for me, and he will leisurely cut through my throat with a rusty saw, and I have no chance of escape, I would still go. I have no choice---it's either finish this or go mad. But you have a choice, Richie. You don't have to....."

"Oh, no, you don't! I came all the way to Paris with you guys! I'm not backing off now!"

"Don't let pride make your decision for you. We're talking about going inside a house and killing everyone there, everyone, Richie! No quarter asked or given."

"So why are you telling me this now?"

"Because we're going tonight," answered Duncan, "and you have to be sure. Because you'll have to live with what you do tonight for a long time."

Richie shook his head. "What about the other night at that apartment? What's so different about tonight?"

"This time we might actually catch someone there, and we'll hopefully have surprise on our side, which means we should be more effective," explained Duncan.

"What he means, Richie, is we'll be doing a lot of killing." Elena smiled without warmth. In fact, she felt very cold, almost detached, very different from the first time she killed a Mortal.....

Elena's [estancia] outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1639

"Then you do not believe he deserves to die, Elenita?" asked Don Alvaro in disbelief. "He is supposed to protect you, and what does he do when you fall of your horse and injure yourself? He rapes you, he robs you, and he leaves you to die on the [pampa.] And you would let him live after all this?"

Elena looks down at the chained and gagged man. Everything Don Alvaro says is true, and yet just killing a man....she doesn't think she can do it. Everything has happened so fast---her own death, finding out about her immortality, and now, the very next day, this! "Father, I can't just....."

"You can't! Or you won't??!! You can't be weak now, [nina!] Why even he himself admits that he deserves death! But I'm not asking you to execute him. I'm asking you to fight him and kill him. He will be unchained and given a sword to defend himself. He will have a chance."

Elena sees Eugenio's eyes go wide above the gag. As her bodyguard, he had often sparred with her. Elena is taller, stronger, clearly better with a sword, and yet she sees the surprise and then the hope in his eyes. Elena takes Don Alvaro aside. "But he really won't have a chance, will he? He can't kill me, can he?"

"Who knows?" Don Alvaro whispers back. "Perhaps he will go for your head!"

Elena goes pale---it is possible. The truth is that she does hate Eugenio, but can't bring herself to what she considers to be murder. Perhaps if she asks Don Alvaro to do it.....but then she imagines his reaction. Her only choice is to fight Eugenio and kill him---or let him go altogether. Without a sponsor like Don Alvaro, Eugenio would probably rejoin the Army, and the first chance he got, would probably find another woman to rape and abandon, or murder.

She remembers being dizzy from the fall, then looking up and seeing Eugenio looming over her; and saying thickly, "[!Gracias a Dios que estas aqui! !Ayudame, por favor, Eugenio!]" and then really,really getting a look at his face; and hearing him say, "[!India asquerosa!]" as he pulled down his pants. There was the terrible dull pain in her head and the sharp unending pain between her legs, and his dead weight on her, it was happening again, and having no strength to fight him. Sometime during the rape she died, and when she 'revived', gasping and writhing in shock and agony, she was in her own bed with Don Alvaro standing beside her. She felt a very strange 'connection' to her adoptive father. They talked about immortality.

So she decides to fight Eugenio, and he wounds her, and she wounds him, and although her pain is just as bad as his, it gets better within minutes, and she regains her strength, but he doesn't, and she runs him through. She knows that in spite of what Don Alvaro said, Eugenio really had no chance---she murdered him. So she puts her head down between her legs and empties her stomach onto the ground.

Paris, 1995

Richie thought about it for a long moment. Elena knew that Richie had killed Immortals before, but that was alright, it was a one on one fight, it was what they were supposed to do. But now he was really thinking about killing Mortals. Finally he said, "Look, guys, I'm ready! I know what's at stake! And no, I'm not doing it for you, Duran, or for you, Mac. These people have come after us, after me too, for the last time. They're going down tonight!"

Duncan turned to Amanda.

"Count me in," she replied. For once, he thought, she seems to be taking something seriously.

Methos smiled. "I've done the commando bit before. I think this time I'll come along and watch from the sidelines. I'll sit with Dawson; I'm sure he'll be there."

Duncan nodded, accepting. "I'm going out for an errand. I'll be back soon." He grabbed his trenchcoat.

"I'll come with you, [querido]. We're a team, remember?" They both walked out into the March air. It wasn't quite spring in Paris yet, but if they survived another month they would see the best this most beautiful and romantic of cities had to offer. Duncan very much wanted to share April in Paris with Elena as he had shared it with Tessa so many times.

As soon as they were free of this burden of the Hunters....

They went to see Pierre Lelou, Georges Lelou's son, from whom Duncan obtained a very illegal item.

They drove up near the fence surrounding the estate when it was full dark; it was isolated, so Duncan had turned off his headlights and coasted. He didn't want to leave the car too far away---he was too experienced a tactician not to leave himself an escape route, although he doubted he could persuade Elena to leave once the fighting started. He had already dropped Elena, Amanda and Methos off a half a kilometer back---the three were circling around to the woods on the north side of the house, which provided a good vantage point to watch from.

Meanwhile, Duncan and Richie would circle around to see what they could see. They set a meeting point by the fence well out of sight of the gate.

Sure enough, the three Immortals easily found two Watchers with binoculars in the woods. They recognized Dawson and Bernie Liebowitz. Elena put her finger to her lips, and they quietly made their way up to right behind the pair. Amanda was very good at sneaking, and Methos had also obviously done this before.

Elena felt like a rookie beside the two older Immortals, but for all her size, she could move very quietly when she had to. "Have you seen any night life?" she asked the two Watchers.

Dawson put his head, up, startled, and Bernie jumped. "Aaahh!" he whispered, clutching his chest. He turned---Elena was standing one meter behind him. "You know, senorita, there are many ways to kill a man!"

"How long have you been here?" she asked.

"About an hour," he gasped.

"Hello, Adam," said Dawson to Methos. His eyes slid to Bernie and back. "What brings you to these parts?"

"To do what we do best, my friend. To watch."

While Dawson introduced Adam Pierson to Bernie, Elena used Duncan's nightscope to look the grounds over. She detected absolutely no movement inside the perimeter. "I don't see any guards or dogs."

Amanda said, "Great! I hate dogs! They have so many.....teeth!" She had borrowed Joe Dawson's binoculars and now said, "Any chance you've been spotted?"

"No way! We're too far away, and we've done this before, remember? We've been watching for a while, and there's absolutely no sign that they're expecting anyone. But they do have a guard at the gate, and at least one other."

"What about the house, Amanda?" asked Elena.

"Looks like a standard beautiful mansion. This is a side view, of course. They have a lot of lights on, but not too many outside. Lots of glass. There's no movement upstairs that I can see, and only one light on, but it's still early."

"It's a cool night," added Bernie. "The windows are all closed, but the curtains are mostly open."

"Except for that last room on the eastern side. The curtains are tightly drawn there. I wonder why," said Amanda, narrowing her eyes. "That might just be my best point of entry."

Elena held out her hand to Bernie, and he gave her his binoculars. The last room was dark even beyond the curtains.

"Oh, look," added Amanda, "they're sitting down to a late dinner!"

The dining room had a nice set of French doors leading out to a stone patio. There were at least a dozen men and women just coming in, getting their food from somewhere out of sight, then sitting down at a very large table near the center of the room.

"How many do you count?" asked Elena, studying them closely. She suddenly saw Evan Kaminsky! Yes!! He was a dead man. Hit the big group first, she thought. Then worry about the stragglers. The one thing she was most afraid of was that she'd miss Rios, that he'd be killed and she wouldn't know it, that he'd get away somehow.....

She didn't know him by sight, only by his voice. Dawson had given her a general description: five feet eight---about 170 cm---dark hair, in his forties. What could she do, ask every middle aged male Hunter to speak before she killed him? Burst in and demand that Rios identify himself?

"There's the guard at the gate; I don't see any patrols, although.....oh, yes, I see you!"

Elena turned her binoculars in the same direction and spotted a man just crossing in front of the last set of windows on the west side, which seemed to be the kitchen. She could see people moving around inside there as well.

Amanda continued. "At the table---thirteen for dinner!" She removed the binoculars and grinned at Elena. "That's been an unlucky number since I was a young girl!"

"There are at least three or four more in the other rooms," said Elena. "And several in the kitchen while they're eating. There are always knives there, too."

"We don't have an accurate count because they keep moving around," added Dawson. "But we figure about twenty, not counting the other side of the house."

"The question is, why aren't they expecting trouble? They know we're in Paris!"

"But they may not know about Richie, or that you've gotten together with Amanda, too. Your greatest weakness has always been that you're solitary, and prey on each other. But four Immortals attacking as a group---it's unheard of! They'll never expect it!"

Elena heard Amanda mutter to herself, "The four musketeers!"

"And they don't have a clue that you know about this place," said Bernie.

"So you say." Elena got up, handed the binoculars back to him and straightened her cloak.

"Look, I can see that you still don't trust me! Do you want to know how I knew they were here and why I told you about it?"

"No," replied Elena, "as long as they don't know we are here."

"They don't," said Amanda firmly. "They wouldn't be sitting down to eat like that. Unless, of course, it's a very clever trap!"

"It's no trap, believe me!" He paused. "Glenn and Randy and I were drinking buddies in Korea. We go back a long way." His voice was hoarse.

Elena said, "You know I killed Randolph. I used a baseball bat."

Bernie nodded, swallowing hard. "That was....wrong. But what they're doing is also wrong; they've even killed other Watchers, men and women we both knew and worked with. They have to be stopped, and I certainly can't do it."

She sighed. Everyone had their own agenda, and somehow or another, it always involved killing. Even Bernie, "the most inoffensive person in the world," had just told her to kill one his own old friends. And she'd have to do the killing, not him. Elena was getting so tired of death.....but this was not the right attitude to take into a serious battle. She'd better pump herself up, or she would die.

By the time they met up with Duncan and Richie at their prearranged point Elena was thinking in a different way. She was going into a life and death fight, and this is what she did best; she had a good sword and a loaded pistol in her pocket. These Hunters had shot her, killed her, captured her, trapped her, chased her---but she beat them every time, and now, at last, she would finish the Hunt that had taken over her life for the past year and a half!

Most importantly, she was with Duncan MacLeod, a man she loved, and he was fighting by her side! She tipped her head up and laughed softly, deep in her throat, with sheer excitement, the pulse at the base of her neck throbbing. Maybe later she'd be afraid; maybe later she'd have regrets; but right now, her blood was rushing, and she was ready!

Duncan was not feeling good about the job ahead, but he looked on it as a war. The enemy were implacable and they would keep coming back, so they had to be destroyed once and for all. His concern was for the others. He hoped Richie was tough enough not to choke up---that scared him. Amanda, whom he had known for centuries! And if Elena were killed.....he looked at her in the dim light of the crescent moon.

He could just make out the shine in her eyes. She looked radiant, her hair tied back, her teeth very white in her face, her body tense. She was almost humming with energy, and her excitement was contagious. She tipped her head up and laughed softly, deep in her throat. And when she looked at him he felt such an outpouring of emotion it was a physical ache. How he wished he could just send her away to safety, but he realized part of what he found so attractive about her was her strength, so much like his own. He found himself smiling, his muscles tingling. "I love you, Elena!" he whispered just for her.

She kissed him briefly on the lips, hard. Then she pulled out her sword, brought the hilt up to her lips and kissed the cross there, whispering, "[!Ayudame, Dios mio!]"

Duncan perfomed a similar ceremony with his katana, holding it in front of him, blade down, and closing his eyes. He dimly heard Richie muttering something.

They decided to bypass the man at the gate because he had the one weapon that could hurt them the most---communication to the inside. Because they were outnumbered and outgunned, their attack depended entirely on surprise.

The fence was not electified. They each took a running start and swung lightly over the spiked top. As they landed they stopped to listen. They had seen two men patrolling the grounds, but they were both near the house. They proceeded forward quietly, fanning out but keeping within sight of each other. The bushes and trees were sparse, providing minimal cover, and there was a long stretch of open lawn to cross before they got to the house itself, and a crescent moon to provide light.

Duncan quietly approached each of the two guards from behind and broke their necks instantly. They hid the bodies and crossed over, one by one, to the house right in front of the closed room---if they couldn't see in, theoretically the people inside couldn't see out, but if someone was glancing out any one of the windows, especially an upstairs one.....

No alarm yet, good, thought Duncan. Then he became aware of the buzz, coming from inside the house. He looked back at Elena, and she, too seemed surprised. She silently confirmed with the others---they had all felt the presence of an Immortal inside! And if they had felt him or her.....?

Elena felt an ache deep in her stomach. If an Immortal was working with the Hunters, they were already discovered! They tensed, waiting, ready to move immediately, but moments passed in silence, and they didn't dare wait too long---they wanted to catch the large group in the dining room. Maybe they took another Immortal prisoner like they took me! she wondered. She tapped Duncan on the shoulder and crossed her fists at the wrist together in front of her, gesturing toward the window. He nodded, understanding. Then the three of them sneaked torward the dining room doors while Amanda examined the windows of the curtained room.

Translations: (all Spanish)

pampa -- plains of Argentina

nina/nino -- girl/boy

gracias a Dios que estas aqui -- thank God you're here

ayudame, por favor -- help me, please

India asquerosa -- filthy Indian

querido/querida -- beloved

PART IX

Richie reared back away from the dining room doors---he was now clearly visible from the inside---and as soon as he threw the stun grenade he threw himself down onto the patio floor to avoid its effects.

An alarm went off, then the explosion, screams, and immediately Duncan crashed through the French doors and into the dining room, katana in hand. The first Hunter he met was a woman and he hesitated for an instant.

Elena, who was right behind him, shot the woman and emptied her clip into three others she was sure were not Rios.

Duncan swept his way forward with his katana.

Elena looked around frantically; several men fit the description, but she couldn't get to all of them.

"Rios!" she called out in Spanish, leaping onto the table. "I'm here! It's Elena Duran! Come and kill me like you promised! Where are you, you bastard? I'm waiting for you!" She swung her sword along her left side, neatly taking a man's head off; the spurting blood drenched her from the waist down. It felt hot on her legs, and her stomach lurched.

Someone drawn by the sound of her voice fired at her. The bullet hit her right thigh; she grunted painfully as her leg gave way. Dropping her gun, she tucked her head and right shoulder and rolled off the table in his direction. She felt another bullet graze her, but by this time she had landed on him.

Using a very quick Aikido technique called [tachidori,] she literally plucked the gun out of his hand. She shot him twice with his own gun, then stood up and took a moment to look around. She saw Duncan stab one of the last Hunters still standing. Near the door Richie was fighting hand to hand with someone using a large tray as a shield. She fired at Richie's opponent but her gun was empty; then Richie ran the man through with his rapier anyway. She saw Kaminsky and someone else go out of the room and started after him but her leg wouldn't hold her and she fell again.

She slowly rose; the three of them looked around the shambles of the room. There were no Hunters standing, and a total of eleven people down---one of them was still breathing with great difficulty, another moaning softly.

Duncan could see a lot of blood on Elena but she didn't act badly hurt, so he concentrated on Richie, who was looking everywhere at once. "Richie?" he called out to him. The look Richie gave him was one Duncan would remember for a long time---it was haunted, sick, and horrified all at the same time. He remembered the day of his first battle in the Highlands, when he must have had the same look on his face. He walked over to Richie, who was glancing around again and seemed to be hyperventilating.

"Richie?" asked Duncan softly, then turned him so he could look into Richie's face. "Richie, are you alright? We have no time for this!" Maybe he could send Richie out to stay with the Watchers.... Richie's expression had changed slightly. He now looked like he was going to throw up. But then he shook his head. "I'm OK, honest, I just.....I'm fine, Mac." He swallowed thickly. "I'm right behind you!"

They heard a repeated thumping noise from inside the house. Duncan turned, but Elena was already gone. "Damn it, let's go!" But as Duncan went to the door he heard something behind him and turned to face that, unwilling to leave his back unprotected. It was Amanda coming in from the outside. "Amanda! I thought you were already inside!" he exclaimed.

"I had to leave! That room was full of weapons, so I locked the door from the inside, put a chair up under the handle, and took some of them.....behind you!"

Duncan was just thinking how good Amanda was at being at the right place at the right time. He turned quickly just as a man with a kitchen knife was stabbing at him. In a move he learned from an Immortal named Reinhardt, he grabbed the man's right wrist with his own left hand, held it, and plunged his katana into his opponent's chest. Behind him he heard Amanda murmur something to Richie as he went into the hallway. There he saw a stairway on his right and doors on either side.

Elena was slashing at a group gathered at a further door---the weapons room! There was a crash as the door gave way. He ran towards her, calling out "Elena!" softly so she would know who was coming up behind her.

Elena saw Duncan, apparently unhurt, speaking with Richie. The latter looked pretty shook up; hopefully Duncan could help him. She briefly looked for her gun on the dining room table, but couldn't find it and decided to leave it. Her Reeboks felt sticky, so she pulled them off. She heard a thumping noise from inside the house. When she went out the dining room doors she was in a long, very wide hallway that apparently ran the length of the house. To her right was a staircase, and several doors led out of the hall, but her attention was drawn to the pounding at the end of the hall.

A group of men was trying to batter down a door---the door to the curtained room! Amanda might be in there! But, as she sprinted forward, sword raised, she realized that they couldn't be after Amanda, that Amanda had certainly already left the room, and that she knew what was in that room that they wanted so badly---weapons!

She reached the first man. He heard her and turned, then screamed as she slashed deeply at his middle; it was faster than stabbing because she didn't have to take the time to pull her sword out. She straightarmed him back against the others. There was a crash as the door gave way and the other four people almost fell into the room. Someone behind her said "Elena!" and she recognized Duncan's voice, so she knew her back was safe.

She put her sword into the back of a woman trying to get untangled from the Hunter dying on the floor. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of clips being chambered and turned back to Duncan. "[!Armas!]" she yelled.

She sprinted down the hall, past Duncan, saying, "I'm going up!" passing Richie on the way, noticing the grim, controlled look on his face. 'We have no time for this!' she thought. "They have guns!" she yelled at him, then ran up the stairs, noting a slim, dark Immortal figure ducking into a doorway behind her. Amanda!

Duncan impaled the first man who came to the door---he, in turn, shot Duncan once in the shoulder as he collapsed. Duncan winced but managed to push the shooter off his katana with his foot and back into the room, causing him to crash into the others. "Back!" he said, but Richie was already darting into the next doorway, and Amanda was nowhere in sight. At least he's still thinking and reacting, he thought with some relief.

He followed Richie into a large sitting room. He could hear the pounding of feet behind them. "The windows!" They each dived out a window and onto the lawn. Duncan rolled to his feet---his shoulder was still on fire, but he couldn't stop---then sprinted toward the back of the house. They rounded the corner, bullets spitting into the grass around them.

Richie was right beside him.

Almost without pausing, Duncan bulled his way through the back door and into a large kitchen. They hurried across towards what seemed to be a greenhouse, but halfway there Duncan sensed an Immortal, seemingly underneath them. He knew Elena had gone upstairs, and wondered if Amanda had gone down. Then he remembered the buzz they had all felt when they came near the house.

He found stairs going down, and although it might be a mistake, there might be only one way out, he should go find Elena or Amanda, one of them might need him....but he felt he couldn't just leave an Immortal prisoner behind if he could help it. "I'm going down," he said to Richie, giving him a choice. Richie still looked pretty grim, but he was hanging on. Looking at his young friend, Duncan felt his chest fill with pride and love. He wanted to reach out and tousle Richie's hair and tell him everything would be alright; instead he just smiled.

Richie had also sensed the buzz. He nodded. His smile was somewhat crooked, but he was trying. "I'm right behind you, Mac," he said through tight lips.

As they went in the doorway they heard a sound behind them and bullets crashed into the door frame. They ran down the stairs into a large [cave] or wine cellar, filled with rack after rack of bottles. There was no Immortal there, but there was another door at the far end, maybe beyond that....

Suddenly, a spray of bullets filled the room---their sound, along with the breaking bottles in such an enclosed space, was deafening. Duncan felt slightly dazed but stayed well hidden. He gestured Richie to move away; they had a better chance separated.

Richie nodded and went down one aisle toward the back; Duncan went forward.

But instead of coming after them, one of the Hunters, holding a sword, ran to the other door, unlocked it, and went inside. The Immortal had to be in that room!

Duncan heard a bottle smash behind him, then saw Richie make a break for the inner door---Duncan made some noise himself as a distraction and threw himself to the ground.

The machine gunner started to fire toward Richie. Duncan saw Richie arch his back, crying out, and stagger into the inner room. Then the gunman wheeled toward Duncan. As the spray of bullets hit all around him, he felt pieces of glass pierce his skin. A bullet went through his foot; he drew it back, dragging himself along the ground as quietly as he could. When the shooting stopped he heard a woman's voice from the other room, shouting, ".....me a sword and I'll help you fight! Don't let him kill me! Help me!"

There was a clang of blades from the room. Richie's voice called, "Hang on, I'm trying to get to you!" Duncan ground his teeth in frustration. But then the gunman went to the other room too, and Duncan got up and followed, dragging his temporarily useless foot behind him. He heard a scream, which was quickly cut off.

As he looked in the door, he saw the headless body of a woman tied to a wooden post, blood gushing in spouts from her neck. The Hunter with the sword jumped back to avoid it; Richie was on this side of him, obviously hurt; the man with the machine gun was coming up behind Richie but wasn't firing, probably for fear of hitting his own comrade. The room became charged with electricity as the Immortal's Quickening left her body and entered Richie's. Richie was hit by the lightning; he staggered, moaning, then screamed and fell to his knees as the force entering him intensified.

The Hunter with the sword tried to behead Richie, but it was a mistake---one of the lightning bolts traveled up the sword blade and struck him. He screamed once, shuddering, and fell like a stone, smoke coming up from his clothes. Duncan could smell the stench of burned flesh.

Then the gunman, with a cry, opened fire on Richie. Even as the Quickening was still entering him, Richie writhed and collapsed in a hail of bullets.

"No!" Duncan rushed forward and almost cut the gunman in half. He still couldn't approach Richie; he could only stand there and wait, watching the door. After a minute or so, the Quickening ended, but Richie still lay there, dead. He could stay dead for ten minutes or for an hour---in any case, Duncan didn't dare leave him. And yet, he couldn't just stand by and wait while Elena and Amanda might be in trouble upstairs.

He finally compromised---he hid Richie's body, with his rapier nearby, behind one of the wine racks. "Good luck, Richie," he muttered, and went upstairs.

As Elena ran up the stairs she heard a machine gun go off. That particular weapon gave her the willies, because it reminded her of Maria's death, and because it was so deadly. Even against an automatic she had a chance, but not against a [metralleta.] Fortunately they couldn't see her from below because of the staircase's orientation, and she certainly wasn't worried about making noise. She was worried about someone waiting on the railing behind her, but it was empty. She dropped to the ground and crawled up to peer over the top step. The setup was identical to the one downstairs, with what she assumed would be bedrooms off the wide, well-lit hallway. There was no one visible. With all the noise from the battle downstairs, this meant there was either no one upstairs or they had stayed hidden. She hoped Rios had not been in the dining room, but she could be wrong; or he could be shooting at Duncan even now. Who was he? Where was he?

She went to the first door on her left and listened, turned the knob, and pushed it open, stepping back. Nothing. She took a quick look inside the dark bedroom and bathroom---it connected to a second bedroom. She listened briefly, hearing muted gunfire from downstairs, then came in through that inner door, holding her broadsword ready in front of her. She knew she wasn't making any noise that could be heard by anyone else, but the sounds of her heartbeat and breathing seemed impossibly loud to her ears. The sweat from the exertion and excitement, combined with the blood, chilled her.

The second bedroom was also empty, but both had several beds in them and definite signs of current use. There were papers and folders on a small table---she made a note to look at those later if she survived. She saw an automatic on a dresser and picked it up, but it was empty. She started to look for a clip when she heard a noise (a door opening?) from across the hall, so she put the gun down and went to the open door leading out.

She stuck her head out quickly, then pulled back to process the mental picture of what she had seen. The stair railing was directly on her left and no one was on the stairs; the hallway was still deserted, but there was an open door one room down and across from her. That door had been closed when she looked before, and she heard soft voices from that room. She couldn't make them out.

She partially closed her door and situated herself so she could peer out at that bedroom doorway, then thought about what to do. It was possible that that bedroom had a connecting bathroom too, and she could go in that way, but she couldn't be sure. Going directly to the open door would expose her completely; so would going into the open hallway. She waited and watched---this was the hardest part for her, the time when she began to feel real fear. She took several deep breaths and waited.

The voices stopped and a dark-haired man in his forties with a machine gun came out, looked around briefly, and went toward the stairs. [?Sera Fernando Rios?] she thought. As he got to the stairs he looked into the bedroom Elena had first entered. He had to know someone was up here, she reasoned. Even on the parquet floor of the hallways and the marble of the staircase she must have left some blood behind--her jeans were still quite damp and stiffening. And the bedrooms had carpeting!

Suddenly the Hunter (Rios, it had to be him!) darted into the first bedroom, firing his machine gun. He was coming through the bathroom right behind her! She threw open the door and dived out into the hall, rolling to her feet. The roar of the machine gun was deafening as a spray of bullets hit all around and through the door. Without pausing, she grabbed the railing with her right hand, swung over and around until she was hanging straight down, then let go.

She lost her balance on the steps but grabbed the hand railing for support as the gunman shot down from the second floor. Elena jumped down the last few steps, but he had already moved forward, still firing down. As she tried to duck into the first doorway, two bullets struck her in the shoulder and back, knocking her against the wall. She cried out, finding it hard to breathe, knowing from experience that one of her lungs had been hit. She closed her left fist on her sword hilt ("Never lose your grip on your sword!" was Don Alvaro's favorite saying). Bullets rained down just behind her as she lurched into the open doorway, sobbing quietly.

Three meters inside the room she staggered into a large object---a sofa. She could hear the gunman coming down the steps. She looked around frantically, aware she had only seconds. Directly across the room was a window, too far to reach; to her right, a closed door. She stepped to the door and opened it, leaving a bloody mark on it, then came back to drop like a dead weight behind the sofa just as [el pistolero] burst in, firing again, sweeping the gun left and right. She could feel some bullets impact the overstuffed sofa, but none got through to her. Her breathing was labored; the pain seemed unending; her ears and head hurt.

Then he suddenly stopped. Don't get cautious now, you bastard! Use up all your rounds! she thought desperately. She was practically holding her breath, and she didn't dare look.

"I know you're here, Duran! I now know what you are, and God has led me to you! You can't escape Him or me!"

Elena closed her eyes, remembering the voice. Of course it was Fernando Rios! How poetic, how dramatic! She felt like the hero in a Shakespearean tragegy facing the villain in the end. Or maybe she was the villain. She gathered her long legs under her, gathering calm and strength as well.

There was a sudden noise from the room next door, and Elena heard Rios start walking towards the door. Another noise---he started firing, but after only a few seconds she heard the welcome click of an empty chamber. Immediately she sprang up onto the sofa and over the top, letting out a savage battle cry that was part pain, part fear, and part blood lust.

He had ejected a clip and had another in his hand. He turned to her, looking at her in horror, then tried to insert the new clip. It was a race, and she won. Her blade plunged into the Spaniard's abdomen and out the back---he dropped his machine gun without a sound, eyes going round in shock.

Elena kept her sword in his body---if she pulled it out, he would quickly bleed to death, and she had to ask him. She was still wheezing; between that and the pain she couldn't get any words out. She gritted her teeth. Her opponent was gasping, his mouth open like a fish out of water. "You are Fernando Rios! I've been hunting you as well," she finally said, panting.

His voice was filled with disgust and loathing. "Duran! I know you, demon!" He took a deep, strained breath. "I have seached for you for so long, and now God has delivered you into my hands!"

She pushed her broadsword in to the hilt, their faces centimeters away.

"Aaaahhh!!!" he gasped in sheer agony.

"God is just. I have won and you have lost. What do you think that means, Rios?"

With difficulty, he said, "He has tested me, and now He is calling me to him. I am content, knowing I died trying to destroy you. How content are you to keep living, spawn from hell?"

That was certainly something to think about---later. But for now..... "You don't really believe...." she began. But she could see that he did. Demon from Hell, huh? It didn't matter.

She pulled out Maria's chain. It hung from her hand, dripping blood onto the carpeting. "What about her? What about Maria? Why did you kill her and her baby? Was she a demon also?" He was going into shock, sinking down to his knees. She came down with him. "Don't die, Rios! Tell me why!" she screamed in his face.

He managed to focus on the chain she held right in front of him. "The little girl...." He took a deep sobbing breath. "That was so wrong....a mistake. I never meant.....not a day, not a moment passes that I do not regret their deaths! I grieve for them! Every night I pray to God for her immortal soul and the soul of her unborn child!" His voice was fading. "Every night I pray to God for forgiveness!"

Elena was looking at his face. There was no question that he was telling the truth, no doubt of his sincerity! Just who had she been hunting all these months???

His eyes were beginning to glaze over. He looked at her. "Every night," he whispered, "I pray to God for you and your kind to return to Hell where you belong!"

Elena couldn't listen to any more. "I hope God forgives you, Fernando Rios, because I never will!" She stood, pulled her sword out roughly and stepped back. Rios fell forward with a moan. She held her sword out in front of her, hilt down, so that it formed a cross in her hand. She had to believe God was on her side. She was no demon. And Rios was a madman. But he really believed! And he really, really regretted killing Maria; there was no doubt about that! "[!Dios mio!]" she whispered.

She looked at the figure in the doorway, standing there, watching her. He looked probably much like her, like he'd been through Hell, but he stood tall and graceful, his katana at rest behind his arm. Was it really over? she wondered.

His face was grim, but his eyes were kind, and he was so beautiful he took her breath away. She wondered how long he had been there, how much he had heard, then decided it really didn't matter. Fernando Rios was dying at her feet. Elena gave her enemy the coup de grace, stepped around the body, and went to Duncan MacLeod.

Translations:

ayudame, Dios mio (Span.) -- help me, God

tachidori (Jap.) -- in Aikido, the art of taking away your opponent's sword/weapon while you yourself are unarmed

armas (Span.) -- arms, weapons

cave (Fr.) -- wine cellar metralleta (Span.) -- machine gun

?Sera Fernando Rios? (Span.) -- could it be Rios?

el pistolero (Span.) -- the gunman

PART X

When Duncan found Elena in a front room of the mansion she was on her knees in front of a Hunter who was also kneeling. Duncan could tell from the way the man sagged that the only thing keeping him from collapsing was her sword piercing his body---he could see the blade coming out his back. They were speaking very quietly---Duncan imagined what difficulty he was having speaking at all---and he caught only a few words of.....it was Spanish! If this is Fernando Rios..... Duncan thought.

"...every night...[rezo]..pray..." he was saying "...to God..." for an Immortal?

No, for an immortal soul. Whose immortal soul? Duncan couldn't see Elena's face. He moved closer, fascinated by this conversation, then realized there could still be other Hunters, and looked around. The hallway was deserted.

Elena said, "...Fernando Rios, because I will not!" She stood and pulled her sword out roughly, stepping back. The Hunter (it was Rios!) fell forward, moaning. She whispered, "My God!"

Then she looked at him---she must have just noticed he was there. She seemed to be studying him. Her jeans were dark with blood, and there was a large fresh stain on her chest; her hair, damp with sweat and pulled out of her ponytail, wildly framed her face. She looked terrible, and she looked beautiful, and as they stared at each other for a moment he felt the coldness in his heart, the coldness he had imposed upon himself so he could do this killing, start to melt away.

The Hunter at her feet made a noise, and Elena killed him, then stepped around the body and came to Duncan. She nodded. "Yes, that was him. Duncan, I....." She looked around. "Where's Richie?"

"I have to get back to him. It's not over yet! What about Aman....."

The lady in question came out of the adjoining room. Elena turned---so that was the noise that had distracted Rios!

"Thank you," said Elena, noticing that somehow Amanda looked as cool and collected as she had when they first came into the house, except maybe a little paler than usual? She didn't even have her sword in her hand, whereas Elena was still gripping hers so tightly her hand was cramping up. She eased off slightly.

Amanda saluted, smiling ever so slightly, then asked Duncan, "What about Richie? Where is he?"

"He's in the wine cellar, shot to death. I've got to get to him....." he turned to go.

"I'll go!" said Amanda. "You two see if anyone's still moving. That way?" she pointed toward the kitchen, he nodded, and she darted away.

Elena started to ask what happened, but she could guess; after all, she'd been shot too. "There's someone upstairs."

When they burst into the bedroom upstairs they found it empty, a window open. Silently, they gathered what information they could from the house. They searched the first floor---the dining room was the worst. Elena recognized Glenn Morrison, (Bernie should be pleased, she thought grimly) and the two who had been alive when they left still lingered. One man whom Elena had fatally shot was on his front, moaning softly, and Duncan finished him, wishing he'd done this earlier and not left the man to suffer for so long.

Elena looked down on a man who was panting heavily; he had tried unsuccessfully to stem the flow of blood with his fingers, but a katana leaves a large, fatal chest wound. He looked at her; if she expected to see hate on his face she was disappointed---there was only pain and fear. As she brought her sword down she heard a gasp and turned quickly.

Richie was standing in the doorway. The look of horror on his face frightened Elena---beyond him she could see Amanda, who was also obviously concerned for Richie.

Duncan went to Richie, shielding the room with his body, pushing him back carefully. "Richie, are you alright?"

Richie didn't answer; in fact, he pushed back against Duncan, straining to keep looking into the dining room. Duncan put his sword down, grabbed Richie by the shoulders and moved him out into the corridor. "There's no need for you to look at this anymore, Richie."

"But I want to look, Mac. I wanna see what we've done, what I've done. We killed them all!"

His voice sounded strange. Duncan was afraid Richie might become hysterical. "I know," he said, soothingly. "We had no choice. It was them or us." He forced Richie to look at him. "Richie, we had no choice," he repeated, convincing himself as well.

But Richie wasn't getting hysterical. Duncan could see him fighting for control. "Mac, I....I didn't realize, you know?.....I didn't realize there would be so much....so much....."

Duncan knew the word Richie was looking for, but he waited, patient, supportive, his hands still on his young friend's shoulders.

".....blood! Did you know there would be so much blood, Mac?"

"Yeah, but it's over, Richie. Let's get out of here. We'll talk later, alright?"

Richie nodded, almost mechanically, and Amanda said, "Come on, Richie. We're finished here." She took his hand and led him to the front door, but before they got there he turned back to Duncan.

"Mac, you know that Immortal downstairs, she shouldn't have died that way! I really tried to get to her, I tried!"

"I know you did your best, Richie. Sometimes, no matter what we do or how hard we try, they die anyway. Even other Immortals."

"I wish....." Richie started, then he seemed to shake himself like he had before. He turned to Amanda. She smiled and whispered something Duncan didn't hear. They walked outside.

Elena was leaning on her sword. Like Richie, she wanted to see what they had done, what she had done; she wanted to take responsibility for it. It was the only way she could live with herself. "We had no choice," Duncan had said, and he was right, but.....

"Can we get out of here?" asked Duncan. He'd been on battlefields before and had no desire or need to look at the dead. Somehow, each battleground seemed to be worse than the one before. He remembered what Darius had said to him when they first met on another killing field. How he missed Darius, even now!

They walked out together, each keeping his council. Elena knew eventually they'd have to talk about this, and she was afraid that Duncan would somehow blame her, or that the sight of her would remind him of this night's work, he wouldn't want to look at her, be with her. She'd just have to wait and see what he said. But as sick as she felt after this night's work, she also felt like a boulder had been lifted from her shoulders. There was a certain freedom.....now she could actually do something with her life besides killing!

As for Duncan, a part of him was relieved it was over, but another part, the part that both loved and slightly mistrusted Elena, was afraid it would not be over for her. If she was truly just a killer as Dawson and even Richie had said; if this wasn't enough for her; it would destroy them both.

"Richie will be alright. He's stronger than you think, Duncan," she said out of the blue.

"I know. I just wish he hadn't had to go through this." There was another long silence, then Duncan started, "Elena....."

"Rios was a religious fanatic on a mission from God to destroy the Immortals," she interrupted. She really didn't want to hear what Duncan had to say, not right this minute.

"Why?" asked Duncan. "Because we want to rule the world?"

"He believed we are some sort of Hellspawn, sent by [Satanas] himself. He really believed it, Duncan! And as for Maria....." She didn't know if she could explain to Duncan the genuine regret and sorrow she had seen on Rios' face. "If I live for a thousand years I will never.....Duncan!"

She broke off when she looked ahead. There were now over a dozen men with Dawson, Bernie and Methos. They were obviously Watchers, and her first instinct was to reach for her sword, but she overcame it.

Amanda turned to them, but Richie had walked on ahead. "What's going on, Dawson?" he was saying.

Duncan had a good idea of why the Watchers were here. "It's alright," he said to Elena. "Dawson?" he asked, walking up.

"We're here to clean up our mess, MacLeod. Don't worry, we'll take care of everything!"

Elena was furious. "What do you mean you'll take care of everything? We're the ones who took care of everything. We just did your killing for you!"

"No one twisted your arm, Duran! Besides, you'd done quite a bit of killing already, hadn't you!"

Duncan stepped between them. "It's over! No more! "He looked from one to the other angrily.

"You're right, MacLeod," Dawson said. He sighed and said to Elena, "Can we just call it even?"

"I'm willing, but what about your friends?" Elena had noticed the other Watchers whispering---she'd heard her name. Great, now they all knew who she was and what she looked like. How many of their brothers had she killed? "Am I going to have to look over my shoulder from now on for Watchers as well as Immortals?"

"God, no! All we want is for the killing to stop!" He looked around at the others. "No Watcher wants you for an enemy; trust me on this!"

Elena looked around too. "I gave my word that I wouldn't kill any Watchers, and I won't break my word," she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. "But I don't want anything to do with you Watchers any more. I don't want to see you, I don't want to hear you, are you listening to this, Bernie?"

"But I thought....."

"What did you think, Bernie? That everything would be alright? That I would kill ten people and go back to normal?" She couldn't keep the anger out of her voice.

"I tried to help you....."

"No, Bernie, you didn't try to help me. You only tried to help yourself. You let us do your dirty work for you. I shot Glenn Morrison in the dining room." She realized that sounded like Colonel Mustard from the game Clue---this was so absurd, she almost burst into hysterical laughter. "There are about ten corpses with him. I hope you have a strong stomach, Bernie!"

Bernie glanced at his shoelaces. "Look, I..... senorita....."

"If you or any other Watcher interferes in my life again, I will retaliate. Do you understand? Dawson?"

"Yes," answered Bernie sadly.

"Yeah, and you're very good at retaliating, aren't you?" said Dawson sarcastically.

Duncan knew Elena's short temper; he knew Dawson hated and feared her but wouldn't be shy about letting her know; he knew how she felt about the Watchers; so he was ready when she lunged for Dawson, but she was so quick, no telegraphing, that she almost got past him. He blocked her, holding her by the upper arms. "We were just leaving, right, Elena?" It wasn't meant to be a question. Duncan knew Elena wouldn't kill Dawson, but that left her many options. And she had a particular dislike for this particular Watcher. Duncan wasn't going to give her a choice.

She was angry. She just wanted to punch Dawson, just once. But she knew Duncan wasn't going to let her do it."[Si, querido.]" Let's go home."

The two of them drove back to Paris in silence, although Richie and Amanda in the back seat did a lot of whispering. By the time Duncan dropped them off at their rented house Richie looked almost...like Richie, except he wasn't smiling as much as usual.

Duncan got out with them. "Do you want to talk?"

"No, you know, I bet the two of you have a lot to talk about, and I guess Amanda and I.....we'll be fine. I'll be alright, Mac, I just need to put it behind me, for a while, anyway. I'll talk to you tomorrow or something."

"If you need me," he said to his young friend.

"I know. Thanks a lot, Mac. I mean that."

Duncan nodded and got back in the car. Elena still didn't say a word.

They returned to the barge and each took a long, hot, cleansing shower. When Elena finished she sat at the desk, waiting, fidgeting, but as soon as Duncan came out she couldn't begin to say what was on her mind. [!Cobarde!] she called herself.

Duncan asked her, "Feeling better?"

"No. Should I be?" she retorted.

"That's not what I meant."

"What do you mean, [escoces?]" Here it comes, she thought.

Duncan winced. "You know you only call me 'Scotsman' when you want to distance yourself from me. Is that what you want, [querida?]"

He was using her own term of endearment; there was some hope. "No, that's not what I want, Duncan. Do you remember what I told you in the dojo? I want to stay with you, to share your life, your love, and your bed. And you said you wanted the same thing. That hasn't changed for me. Has it changed for you?"

"No," Duncan said, meaning it.

She felt such an immense relief she wanted to cry. But it wasn't over yet. "You asked me once if I was nothing but a cold-blooded killer. After what happened tonight, what do you think?"

"Elena, I killed a lot of them myself. And nobody forced me to be there. How can you think I'd blame you?"

"You don't?"

"No! But I do need to know.....what you're going todo now. You've been through a terrible time. Is it truly over?"

"You know, this didn't turn out the way I thought, Rios didn't turn out to be who I thought. I thought killing him and the other Hunters would end something for me, and it did, in a way, but now I have more doubts than when I started. And I'm thinking, What have I done? There's so much blood on my hands, Duncan!" She paced, then stopped in front of him. "Look, there are only two things I'm sure of. One is that I'm finished with killing for now. I hope no Immortals show up!"

She paused, trying to gather her thoughts. "Do you trust me, Duncan MacLeod? Because the second thing I'm sure of is that loving you has been the best thing that's happened to me in so long! And now I've led you into a killing spree! God, I'm rambling, I don't even know what I'm saying! I think I'd just like to take some time off. Do you think we can do that? Together? Just the two of us?"

Duncan looked out the porthole at the rushing water of the Seine. Maybe it would work out, for a while, anyway. He'd been with Tessa for twelve years, but Tessa didn't cross him at every turn. Tessa had generally trusted his judgement. Elena, on the other hand, had more than just a mind of her own; she had other ways of enforcing her wishes.

Did he trust her? He trusted that she wouldn't lie to him, and that she wouldn't go after his head without something drastic happening. He trusted that she would keep her word and try to do the right thing. If circumstances changed, he trusted that she would tell him, and they'd deal with it. What else did trusting someone mean? For now, he had to take the chance. He couldn't not trust her.

He looked at her face, her high cheekbones, her grey eyes filled with hope? fear? love? He caressed her face with the back of his hand, traced her lips with his fingers. She seemed to be holding her breath. "Yes, I trust you, Elena. And I'd love to show you Paris in the spring. Starting tomorrow." He smiled.

Elena smiled in return. She had been holding her breath. She felt like the phoenix rising from the ashes. "Let us do nothing but make love for the next fifty years! What do you say, [querido?]"

"Si, Elena."

[La pesadilla,] her nightmare, still came again than night, and the next, but after a month it faded away.

Translations:

rezo -- I pray

si, querido/querida -- yes, beloved

cobarde -- coward

END To Part 4: "Elena and Duncan"